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on February 3, 2002
The story details the trials and tribulations of two disparate souls that connect under very odd circumstances. The first (and main) plot follows Charlie Croker ("...a man in full, had a back like a Jersey Bull"), a real estate developer in Atlanta who flies by the seat of his pants on most deals.
The second story is about a mild-mannered, blue-collar worker named Conrad. Conrad is sent to prison for attacking some folks at a junk yard that has appropriated his car after a (horribly detailed) ... day--which included his firing and the loss of a second interview.
Conrad is freed from prison during an earthquake, travels underground from California to Atlanta, and ultimately becomes a nursing assistant to Charlie Croker. The most interesting passages in the book deal with Conrad's infatuation with the discovery of a book detailing Epictetus and the Stoic philosophy. Wolfe does a decent job of explaining the Stoic philosophy, but he falls hopelessly short on enlightening the reader outside of some trivia about Epictetus.
Conrad ultimately leads himself (and Croker) to an epiphany about the way that they should lead their lives. Overall, this was a fairly interesting read, but the work was not terribly organized or philosophically consistent on any one point; this is especially true in the accounts of the corrupt black politicians (and their sycophants) that "run" Atlanta.
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on January 13, 2001
Painful. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think about the time I wasted on this ... thing. I cringed whenever I sensed some more of the so-called "rap" music or prison slang was approaching. The raps were reminiscent of early old school hip-hop from someone you never heard of, rhymes that even Vanilla Ice would have been embarrassed to perform. The slang used in the jailhouse scenes had me imagining Mr. Wolfe watching prison movies from the 70's, and deleting all the "Sucka's!" and "right on's". I felt especially sorry for the Hawaiian guy, Five-o (how clever!). Even a fictional character shouldn't have to recite the, well, goofy dialogue this poor schmuck delivers. Even if there is a variety of pidgin like that, do you really have to translate even the bits that aren't loopy sounding gibberish? At least that would have been a few less words to have to force one's self through. I tried to finish this ... thing, I honestly did, but there comes a time when you have to know when to cut your losses.Trust me, I'm almost fully recovered from my encounter with "The Book That Won't go Away!" Do yourself a favor, take your money you would have spent on this ... thing, throw it in the air and go for a walk. You'll be much better off.
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on January 4, 2001
I had this book on my shelf for a while and only began to read it after reading Wolfe's polemics against 'old' writers such as Updike who according to him were ignoring the present and really, should be writing books just like A Man in Full. I love much of Wolfe's journalism, where he turns his own excitement at the changing world into eyepopping prose - and Bonfire of the Vanities was a scorching fictional debut. So, given his past record and his current polemic, this book beggars belief. It is baggy and readable - in other words I finished it, but hardly felt a need to digest every overspun sentence - but that is about it. That this is 'reality' I cannot quite believe. The characters, from big to small, read like ciphers; the plot is absurd; and the book it brings to mind most closely, is not any great work of fiction, but the novelisation of the TV series Dallas, where big money, big land deals, and long-boiling feuds are the very essense. Anyone who likes current rap or metal will be cringing at Wolfe's satires of the same. You can only parody music that you love (think of Zappas doo wop on Ruben and the Jets, or Neil Innes The Rutles) and this is tired, sloppy and shows an appalling 'ear' for what is really going on. The only scenes in the whole novel that actually bite are on the ranch: the catching of a dangerous snake, and the horse insemination. These are fine bits of - yes, observed, researched new journalism - the rest is cartoon hubris. Most sad of all is the lack of intellectual or philosophical thought in the novel. Instead Wolfe takes the ancient Stoics off the peg and gives us undigested bits of ancient philosophy. The last big book to attempt to fuse pop music and the ancient greeks was Rushdie's Ground Beneath her Feet, that seemed a failed novel, but at least it was funny, and at times, downright camp. A Man in Full may have sold alot of copies, but it is as much the future of literature as the Beatles '1' album is the future of music.
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on November 29, 1999
This book is a waste of good reading time! It is clearly meant to be a satire of the wealthy, of race and racial issues, and of the narcissism of slice of a wealthy "generation me" class of the late 1990s. However, the only feeling this book left with me was a disgust of the cynicism, selfishness and short-sightedness of Wolfe's characters. I have to admit that the characters are richly drawn, and the road they take towards the climax is interesting enough to pull the reader along. Wolfe also does exhibit a great deal of courage talking about issues of wealth and race in very direct terms, which is a breath of fresh air in our P.C. time. However, Wolfe's characters, all of whom are pathetic and completely dislikable, stumble into an ending that is ridiculous at best as it careens off into surrealism. I kept reminding myself as I was reading it, that if it had a good ending, all would be worth it. That was a unrealistic expectation. Don't waste your time. Read another book.
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on November 18, 1999
I so anticipated Tom Wolfe's new book that I bought a copy for both myself and my Father. Regrettably, it turned out to be one of the worst gifts that I've given in recent years. With few exceptions, Tom Wolfe's jounalistic and fiction works have been some of the most engaging, entertaining, and worthwhile mass market books that I've read. A Man in Full is a disappointing departure from Wolfe's usual quality.
On it's own, A Man in Full might have been a decent, though far from perfect, read. Unfortunately, when compared to Bonfire of the Vanities, and a comparison is unavoidable, it's a disaster. Despite the 10+ year interval between Wolfe's writing of the two books, it seems as if Wolfe was unable to come up with anything new. A Man in Full is essentially a poorly executed copy of everything that was wonderful and original in Bonfire of the Vanities. The styles (as expected) are almost identical, the motivations and personalities of the characters are a far too obvious one-to-one mapping, and while the story is admittedly somewhat different, the endings are not.
Bonfire was truly a great work of fiction but A Man in Full is anything but. This is one of the few Tom Wolfe books that I don't recommend. Stick with The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Wolfe was and is a great journalist, but it's clear that The Bonfire of the Vanities is his one and only great work of fiction.
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Tom Wolfe is generally a good writer, but this book was one of the most ponderous and uninteresting novels I have ever bored myself with. It is too long to sustain drama, there are too many characters to keep track of, and the main characters are all so self-serving they are difficult to care about. The only parts of the book I really liked were the sections about Conrad; but after the earthquake and jailbreak--which were so contrived as to be ridiculous--even that great little subplot broke down. The language in A Man in Full is horrible too: Repetitious phrasing, overuse of certain words that were clever the first time, and long, dull paragraphs describing uninteresting details to distraction. Also, Wolfe has resorted to stereotyping his characters: Rich people are bad and corrupt; poor people are good; minorities are either slick or gang members; women are only worried about their bodies and only think of how they can manipulate men; the men only think of making money and getting laid (except for Conrad, who was cool until he started worshiping Zeus). If this book was supposed to be a great symbol of American Life at the end of the 20th Century, it failed miserably and took way too long to upend in my "books to trade in at the used bookstore" pile. There are corrupt and bizarre people in this country, certainly, but humanity has more depth than Wolfe allows for in his monstrous novel; this novel was depressing and sarcastic without ever being funny. Big mistake. There were lots of opportunites for some real humor. I wish I could get the $30.00 bucks I spent on A Man in Full back.
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on March 25, 1999
Thank God for Benjamin Franklin and a curse on Tom "the copywriter for the rich" Wolfe! If I had to buy this book I would use it as an anchor for my cabin cruiser! Does anybody realize that he is nothing more than a jerk-off artist for ersatz prose? Who is buying this book? Good was nothing but a tome about rich people...who apparently have some kind of weird allure for this foppish "writer"! After diligently trying to read this potboiler for 100 pages, I realized I could get through two pages by just reading one line of lame dialogue. Give it up, Tom. You have nothing to say except "I have to meet my deadline and suck in the public to support my increasingly diminished reputation. When you think of never had anything to say in the first place! As one good writer remarked: " if someone buys my book, its the highest compliment I could receive". Well, Tommy-Boy, I went to the library and saved myself a ton of money! Zeus is on the loose, indeed!
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on March 25, 1999
I was looking forward to this book because I wanted to read a good, sprawling novel about America at the end of the century. I was bitterly disappointed. Wolfe's writing, while comical and perceptive at times, is often bloated and wasteful. I would give this book zero stars if possible. The fatal blow to this book is its reprehensible cast of characters. While every novel needs its share of villians, complete and utter stupidity for every character is a bit much. By the midway point of the book, I really couldn't give two hoots about Charlie, Peepgass, Conrad. Every person has flaws -- every person has his good side, too -- Wolfe apparently has forgot that. I had no motivation to stick with any of them -- Conrad's idiocy gave rise to no sympathy, and the idea that that buffoon Charlie ever managed to build a multimillion dollar empire is preposterous at best. I got so sick of the characters' Three Stooges-like approach to life that I abandoned this book just past the halfway mark and left it at my vacation hotel, thousands of miles away from my home. Back to the drawing board, Tom. Sorry you wasted (and that's what this book is) ten years of your life.
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on January 20, 1999
. . . because I would definitely exercise it. Wolfe consistently employs cheap tricks and gimmicks to delineate the characatures that people this pile of kindling. Do we have to know, at his every appearance, the type of suit, tie, and shoes a certain lawyer is wearing? Do we have to be reminded 5 or 6 times that he has an inexplicable but constant urge to say "You're kidding" and that this, for some inexplicable reason, is humiliating for him? How often must we be treated to descriptions of the protagonist's back muscles? Is there one woman in this novel who has anything more on her mind than how to get money out of men? Why is there absolutely no insight into the thoughts of the black servants who are condescended to throughout? Does mentioning the "Palm Beach helmet" hairdo twenty or thirty times serve a literary purpose? The recent debate in the media over whether or not this book is "literature" is ridiculous and seems to be a well orchestrated charade designed to draw attention to this hastily written, poorly edited, overpriced consumer product. By my count, there are at least 3 egregious typos. The two books I've read since, Ethan Canin's For Kings and Planets and Alec Guiness's My Name Escapes Me are of a higher quality in every respect.
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on December 7, 1998
This is the literary equivalent of the that other over-hyped bomb of 1998; Godzilla. Another example of a PR machine runamuck: the Time magazine cover, the 60 Minutes interview, etc etc. What got lost in it all was that the book just isn't very good. Had any fledgling author submitted this sprawling ill-concieved monstrosity, they would have received a letter from the publisher advising them to keep their day job. Writing a sloppy social commentary containing a multitude of semi-witty character names (all of the law firms have names that sound like those old "fake" books written by I Seymour Butts...hardee-har har) does not make one a "modern day Dickens". As a fan of Wolfe's earlier works I was appalled at how poorly crafted the story was, the feeble attempts at dialect that swung in and out of the story, and a grasp of African American culture that was laughable at best. While not the worst book of the year (that can never happen to anyone else as long as Tom Clancy continues to put pen to paper) this book is a terrible let down and, to borrow someone else's analogy, like watching a former Hall of Fame pitcher having to roll one to the plate. Tom Wolfe should have taken a cue from Thomas Heggin and stopped at one great novel.
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