I Am Charlotte Simmons Paperback – Sep 15 2005
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Amazon.ca Exclusive Content
In I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe masterfully chronicles college sports, fraternities, keggers, coeds, and sex--all through the eyes of the titular Simmons, a bright and beautiful freshman at the fictional Dupont University. Listen to an Amazon.ca exclusive audio clip of Wolfe talking about his new novel.
1931: Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Jr. born in Richmond, VA, on March 2. Wolfe later attends Washington and Lee University (BA, English, 1951), and Yale University (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957).
1956: Wolfe begins working as a reporter in Springfield, MA, Washington, D.C., then finally New York City, writing feature articles for major newspapers, as well as New York and Esquire magazines. Not satisfied with the conventions of newspaper reporting at the time, Wolfe experiments with using the techniques of fiction writing in his news articles. Wolfe's newspaper career spans a decade.
1963: After being sent by Esquire to research a story about the custom car world in Southern California, Wolfe returns to New York with ideas, but no article. Upon telling his editor he cannot write it, the editor suggests he send his notes and someone else will. Wolfe stays up all night, types 49 pages, and turns it in the next morning. Later that day, the editor calls to tell Wolfe they are cutting the salutation off the top of the memorandum, printing the rest as-is. Thus, New Journalism was arguably born, whereby writing and storytelling techniques previously utilized only in fiction were radically applied to nonfiction. Straight reporting pieces now were free to include: the author's perceptions and experience, shifting perspectives, the use of jargon and slang, the reconstruction of events and conversations.
1965: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux publish Wolfe's first collection of nonfiction stories displaying his newfound reporting techniques: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book cements Wolfe's place as a prominent stylist of the "New Journalism" movement.
1968: The Pump House Gang and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (No. 91 on National Review's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century) publish on the same day, and together provide an up-close portrait and exploration of the hippie culture of the 1960s (by following the novelist Ken Kesey and his entourage of LSD enthusiasts), and the cultural change occurring at a seminal point in U.S. social history.
1970: Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is published. This collection underscores racial divide in America, including an amusing story about the socialites of New York City seeking out black liberation groups as guests, focusing on the conductor Leonard Bernstein's party with the Black Panthers in attendance at his Park Avenue duplex. (No. 35 on National Review's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century.)
1976: Wolfe labels the 1970s "The Me Decade" in his collection of essays, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine. Wolfe illustrates the book throughout.
1979: The Right Stuff is published. Depicting the status, structure, exploits, and ethics of daredevil pilots at the forefront of rocket and aircraft technology, as well as the beginnings of the space program and the pioneering NASA astronauts who were the first Americans to land on the moon, the book receives the National Book Award in 1980. An Academy Award-winning film is made from the book in 1983.
1987: With publication of his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities--serialized in Rolling Stone magazine--Wolfe pens one of the bestselling and definitive novels of the 1980s, continuing his social criticism and ability to capture the lives and preoccupations of Americans, one generation at a time. Wolfe receives a record $5 million for movie rights to the novel and, despite the success of the book, the film fails at the box office.
1998: A Man in Full, Wolfe's second novel, is published to mixed criticism, yet garners favor as a 1998 National Book Award Finalist. Here, Wolfe aims his sights on the Atlanta, GA, elite, trophy wives, and real estate developers, continuing to comment on racial issues and the chasm in socioeconomic status in America.
2004: On November 9, Wolfe's third novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, set at the fictional Dupont University, is published. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
What New York City finance was to Wolfe in the 1980s and Southern real estate in the '90s, the college campus is in this sprawling, lurid novel: a flashpoint for cultural standards and the setting for a modern parable. At elite Dupont (a fictional school based on Wolfe's research at places like Stanford and Michigan), the author unspools a standard college story with a 21st-century twist—jocks, geeks, prudes and partiers are up to their usual exploits, only now with looser sexual mores and with the aid of cell phones. Wolfe begins, as he might say, with a "bango": two frat boys tangle with the bodyguard of a politician they've caught in a sex act. We then race through plots involving students' candy-colored interactions with each other and inside their own heads: Charlotte, a cipher and prodigy from a conservative Southern family whose initiation into dorm life Wolfe milks to much dramatic advantage; Jojo, a white basketball player struggling with race, academic guilt and job security; Hoyt, a BMOC frat boy with rage issues; Adam, a student reporter cowed by alpha males. As in Wolfe's other novels, characters typically fall into two categories: superior types felled by their own vanity and underdogs forced to rely on wiles. But what in Bonfire of the Vanities were powerful competing archetypes playing out cultural battles here seem simply thin and binary types. Wolfe's promising setup never leads to a deeper contemplation of race, sex or general hierarchies. Instead, there is a virtual recitation of facts, albeit colorful ones, with little social insight beyond the broadly obvious. (Athletes getting a free pass? The sheltered receiving rude awakenings?) Boasting casual sex and machismo-fueled violence, the novel seems intent on shocking, but little here will surprise even those well past their term-paper years. Wolfe's adrenalized prose remains on display—e.g., a basketball game seen from inside a player's head—and he weaves a story that comes alive with cinematic vividness. But, like a particular kind of survey course, readers are likely to breeze through these pages—yet find themselves with little to show for it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS is not without its flaws, and some of them are fairly glaring. For one thing, Wolfe could easily have shed 150-200 pages off the total page count. Charlotte's ruminations as events progress start to repeat and repeat and repeat...we get it already, Tom! The girl wants to be "cool"!
Other reviewers have questioned Wolfe's vernacular, which I think is missing the point in a social satire. Kids (and these are very much kids) may not say these exact phrases at your alma mater today, but that doesn't mean they aren't saying them elsewhere or that the meaning's in any way unclear. I can tell you from experience that the "F--k Patois" is universal.
The other not-necessarily-terrible-but-still-disconcerting thing is that Wolfe's plot meanders hither and yon: it's there, but this book is largely a collection of scenes rather than a flowing work. Minor nitpick: my God, this guy uses more italics than Cosmopolitan.
The good things about this novel are many, and largely offset the bad. The last point first: what scenes! They ooze reality and dramatic tension, and some of them are laugh-out-loud funny.
I found myself rooting for different characters throughout the novel (my interest in Charlotte deteriorated as her angst increased). Some of the lesser lights are very well drawn. I thought Jojo and Adam were particularly well crafted. Wolfe's also got a real turn of phrase. Most importantly, he's managed to nail down a piece of collegiate darkness and shove it out into the light for us to see...and any reader saying things can't be THAT bad is fooling himself.)
In short, I enjoyed this read almost in spite of myself.
Wolfe's uses of the more colourful phrases are, I find, purposefully over-used, which turns their power in upon themselves. Sooner or later, the senses stop reeling, which is what all users of F*ck Patois learn when they finally discover that the words have lost all meaning. Wolfe draws a fine sketch of a stuttering, intellectual wreck when this happens.
In the end, "I am Charlotte Simmons" is a highly enjoyable read that delivers sometimes-uncomfortable, sometimes-hysterically funny insights that pack the wallop of a morality play. Should be on every frosh's reading list.
I liked Charlotte overall, even though I winced at her high and mighty attitude and her growing angst. I also found her a bit unconvincing at just how innocent and easily shocked she was supposed to be, although I have no knowledge of the goings on in Sparta, where she is from; I just found it a bit hard to swallow that she was so shocked by bad language, didn't know what slang words for sexual acts meant, and that she had never seen an issue of Cosmopolitan. I think I liked Jojo the best at the end of the novel, even though he was one of my least favorites in the beginning. I enjoyed learning new things in some of Wolfe's passages, like in Charlotte's classes. Overall, the characters were well drawn up, and Wolfe succeeds in creating a voyeuristic satire on contemporary college life.
There were a few things about the book I found frustrating. One of them was Wolfe's need to explain to the reader what everything was. for example, he explains in great detail "F--k Patois" and thus describes uneccesarily how the words "F--k" and "s--t" are used today. He gives us definitions of slang, and when slang is used, he points it out, its origins, and what it means. I could be missing something and this could be part of the satirical aspect of the book, but to me it gave the book a certain innaccuracy.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Maybe it was just me, but I didn't particularly like this book. I didn't read too far into the book before I gave up, so maybe it gets better as you go along. Read morePublished on Nov. 30 2013 by Weezie From Dartmouth
I had heard such good things about this book and was anxious to read it. In fact, the first part of the book was actually very interesting and I could see tremendous... Read morePublished on June 19 2013 by Deb
Why do Americans have to go through this horrible class distinction? I loved the book, well-written, exciting, satirical etc. Read morePublished on Sept. 30 2012 by julov
I have never found a book so excruciating to finish, nor loathed a character so much as Charlotte Simmons. Read morePublished on Jan. 3 2009 by Emily M.
My reasons for not enjoying this book:
(1) It was about 500 pages too long. Wolfe writes way too much unnecessary detail into his scenes. Read more
Like many other big books I've taken on lately (JONATHAN STRANGE and the every-popular BARK OF THE DOGWOOD), this one was not only well thought out, but has brilliant... Read morePublished on Aug. 11 2005 by Zock Beresford
This book is very well written. The characters depicted and the nature of the setting succinctly captures college campus life where there is sex, rivalries, friendship, peer... Read morePublished on May 26 2005 by Sancho Mahle
I can't help but like this book. "I am Charlotte Simmons" has the lost angry adolescent thing going for it (ala "Catcher in the Rye") but it is more than that. Read morePublished on May 9 2005 by Derek Leonardi