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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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Wolfe is one of the greatest literary stylists and social observers of our much observed postmodern era. . . . A rich, wise, absorbing, and irresistible novel."--Lev Grossman, Time
"Tom Wolfe has scored a slam dunk with his...attention to style, the rule-bending punctuation, the deftness of slang dialogue, and that biting satire."--Steve Garbarino, New York Post
"Wolfe's dialogue is some of the finest in literature, not just fast but deep. He hears the cacophony of our modern lives."--Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"Dazzingly vivid . . . Tom Wolfe has served up another of his broadly entertaining novels."--Adam Begley, The New York Observer
"Captivating . . . Sit back and enjoy the ride."--Tom Walker, The Denver Post
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Prologue: The Dupont Man
Every time the men's room door opened, the amped-up onslaught of Swarm, the band banging out the concert in the theater overhead, came crashing in, ricocheting off all the mirrors and ceramic surfaces until it seemed twice as loud. But then an air hinge would close the door, and Swarm would vanish, and you could once again hear students drunk on youth and beer being funny or at least loud as they stood before the urinals.
Two of them were finding it amusing to move their hands back and forth in front of the electric eyes to make the urinals keep flushing. One exclaimed to the other, "Whattaya mean, a slut? She told me she's been re-virginated!" They both broke up over that.
"She actually said that? 'Re-virginated'?"
"Yeah! 'Re-virginated' or 'born-again virgin,' something like that!"
"Maybe she thinks that's what morning-after pills do!" They both broke up again. They had reached that stage in a college boy's evening at which all comments seem more devastatingly funny if shouted.
Urinals kept flushing, boys kept disintegrating over each other's wit, and somewhere in the long row of toilet stalls somebody was vomiting. Then the door would open and Swarm would come crashing in again.
None of this distracted the only student who at this moment stood before the row of basins. His attention was riveted upon what he saw in the mirror, which was his own fair white face. A gale was blowing in his head. He liked it. He bared his teeth. He had never quite seen them this way before. So even! So white! They vibrated from perfection. And his square jaw . . . his chin and the perfect cleft in it . . . his thick thatchy, thatchy, light-brown hair . . . his brilliant hazel eyes . . . his! Right there in the mirror--him! All at once he felt like he was a second person looking over his own shoulder. The first him was mesmerized by his own good looks. Seriously. But the second him studied the face in the mirror with detachment and objectivity before coming to the same conclusion, which was that he looked fabulous. Then the two of him inspected his upper arms where they emerged from the sleeves of his polo shirt. He turned sideways and straightened one arm to make the triceps stand out. Jacked, both hims agreed. He had never felt happier in his life.
Not only that, he was on the verge of a profound discovery. It had to do with one person looking at the world through two pairs of eyes. If only he could freeze this moment in his mind and remember it tomorrow and write it down! Tonight he couldn't, not with the ruckus that was going on inside his skull.
"Yo, Hoyt! 'Sup?"
He looked away from the mirror, and there was Vance with his head of blond hair tousled as usual. They were in the same fraternity. He had an overwhelming desire to tell Vance what he had just discovered. He opened his mouth but couldn't find the words, and nothing came out. So he turned his palms upward and smiled and shrugged.
"Lookin' good, Hoyt!" said Vance as he approached the urinals, "lookin' good!"
Hoyt knew it really meant he looked very drunk. But in his current sublime state, what difference did it make?
"Hey, Hoyt," said Vance, who now stood before a urinal, "I saw you upstairs there hittin' on that little tigbiddy! Tell the truth! You really, honestly, think she's hot?"
"Coo Uh gitta bigga boner?" said Hoyt, who was trying to say, "Could I get a bigger boner?" and vaguely realized how far off he was.
"Soundin' good, too!" said Vance. He turned away in order to pay attention to the urinal, but then looked at Hoyt once more and said with a serious tone in his voice, "You know what I think? I think you're demolished, Hoyt. I think it's time to head back while your lights are still on."
Hoyt put up an incoherent argument, but not much of one, and pretty soon they left the building.
Outside it was a mild May night with a pleasant breeze and a full moon whose light created just enough of a gloaming to reveal the singular wavelike roof of the theater, known officially here at the university as the Phipps Opera House, one of the architect Eero Saarinen's famous 1950s Modern creations. The theater's entrance, ablaze with light, cast a path of fire across a plaza and out upon a row of sycamore trees at the threshold of another of the campus' famous ornaments, the Grove. From the moment he founded Dupont University 115 years ago, Charles Dupont, no kin of the du Ponts of Delaware and much more aesthetically inclined, had envisioned an actual grove of academe through which scholars young and old might take contemplative strolls. He had commissioned the legendary landscape artist Gordon Gillette. Swaths of Gillette's genius abounded throughout the campus; but above all there was this arboreal masterpiece, the Grove. Gillette had sent sinuous paths winding through it for the contemplative strolls. But although the practice was discouraged, students often walked straight through the woods, the way Hoyt and Vance walked now beneath the brightness of a big round moon.
The fresh air and peace and quiet of the huge stands of trees began to clear Hoyt's head, or somewhat. He felt as if he were back at that blissful intersection on the graph of drunkenness at which the high has gone as high as it can go without causing the powers of reasoning and coherence to sink off the chart and get trashed. . . . the exquisite point of perfect toxic poise . . . He was convinced he could once again utter a coherent sentence and make himself understood, and the blissful gale inside his head blew on.
At first he didn't say much, because he was trying to fix that moment before the mirror in his memory as he and Vance walked through the woods toward Ladding Walk and the heart of campus. But that moment kept slipping away . . . slipping away . . . slipping away . . . and before he knew it, an entirely different notion had bubbled up into his brain. It was the Grove . . . the Grove . . . the famous Grove . . . which said Dupont . . . and made him feel Dupont in his bones, which in turn made his bones infinitely superior to the bones of everybody in America who had never gone to Dupont. "I'm a Dupont man," he said to himself. Where was the writer who would immortalize that feeling?--the exaltation that lit up his very central nervous system when he met someone and quickly worked into the conversation some seemingly offhand indication that he was in college, and the person would (inevitably) ask, "What college do you go to?" and he would say as evenly and tonelessly as possible, "Dupont," and then observe the reaction. Some, especially women, would be openly impressed. They'd smile, their faces would brighten, they'd say, "Oh! Dupont!" while others, especially men, would tense up and fight to keep their faces from revealing how impressed they were and say, "I see" or "Uhmm" or nothing at all. He wasn't sure which he enjoyed more.