on September 8, 2005
This was my first foray into Wolfe, and I'm intrigued enough to read more of his work.
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.
on April 5, 2008
For a few short days, I found myself immersed in the world of Charlotte Simmons, which was akin to remembering my uni days, except focused and accented through a fun-house mirror. OBVIOUSLY, characters are drawn in gross parody, but it is a fine distillation of the most fundamental weaknesses. All the seven sins are on display for our delectation: Charlotte's screaming Pride, collegial Lust dripping from the pages, Envy purposefully courted, Greed (and beer) overflowing, intellectual Sloth, and academic Wrath. And while Charlotte's interior world can and does become tiresome reading, with its relentless self-focus, so too can be the self-talk of any real 18 y.o., particularly in the hothouse social atmosphere of college.
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.
on September 14, 2006
I devoured Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" in just two days. I loved the realism and starkness of many of the situations presented in this book; much of it was painful, and true to the emotions of several college students. I didn't really feel great sympathy or affection totally towards any of the characters in this book - and this is a good thing. It contributed to the book's realism.
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. I found there to be way too much 'lingo' in the book, some of it accurate, some of it sounding weird or dated, but maybe that's just my taste.
The ending also bothered me. Throughout the book Wolfe is so attentive to details, and the end is like "and then a month later, this is what's going on. The end." We read how Charlotte's emotional issues are resolved, but we don't know how she ended up being (_____'s) girlfriend. It seemed uneven and tacked on compared to the rest of the rich book.
overall I really liked the book. I was particularly impressed at Wolfe's ability to capture the feelings of an 18 year old girl. I recommend it.
on February 7, 2006
once again tom wolfe focuses his gimlet eye to provide another commentary on contemporary american society. this time he explores student life,specifically the life of one student, on the campus of a large,prestigious american university.at this institution,albeit fictional, the characters, situations and events ebb, flow and meld to create one of the most thought-provoking pieces of fiction i have read in a long time. my university days are fond memories (for the most part) but i found myself considering"charlotte" from a collegiate perspective.i do not think that mr. wolfe has exaggerated much in this work (indeed, i am frequently treated to outbursts of "f- patois" when i visit a mall) and if readers are alarmed by some of the situations, so much the better. excessive drinking, drug use and profligate, casual sex ARE alarming and deserve exposure and examination, particularly when they are occurring in a milieu that is purportedly dedicated to the development of educated, well-rounded young people. hats off to mr. wolfe for having the fortitude to write this book. a must-read for anyone who values education,good writing and honest discussion.
on August 11, 2005
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 characterizations and plot. As I write this I have not finished reading the novel yet I can already tell that it should be the novel of the decade. When I was at Rice University in the 1970s things were not as bad as they are at Charlotte's fictional (and current) DuPont, but you could see the present day coming. Humans have difficulty achieving balance, and therefore it only stands to reason that once banality becomes acceptable it will be pursued to its logical end. "I Am Charlotte Simmons" makes it pretty clear that the logical end of our banal culture is not far off, and it makes you wonder what the aftermath will be like. "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is not just a scathing attack on collegiate culture, but on broader American culture as well (after all the super hoops players in the novel have FANS), and must rank alongside the great Billy Wilder Films "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Big Carnival" as a a cultural critique. Must also recommend the books CHLDREN'S CORNER by McCrae, LIFE OF PI, and the very funny DRESS YOUR FAMILY by Sedaris. All are great, and these last ones are much shorter. If you're a big fan of books (like I am) you'll enjoyed this different selection.
on March 12, 2005
'I am Charlotte Simmons' is a remarkable novel that transcends generational categories....I would give it to any adult. While the subject material is nothing like some other books, the writing is great (think Jackson McCrae's "Bark of the Dogwood" with its loopy adjective-laden prose and wonderful pacing). The basic plot traces the initiation of Charlotte Simmons to the life and culture at the elite Dupont University. She has a devastating experience with a frat star named Hoyt Thorpe. Her life is almost ruined. Wolfe however describes university life and American culture that seems hard for a lot of readers to accept. In so doing he creates a variety of sub plots or sub characters. These sub plots make the novel very dense and deserving of a re read. They also provide humor. There is JoJo the one white player on Duponts starting basketball team. From this perspective Wolfe delves into race relations and college sports...and on a broader level...values. There are the Mutants...a group of intellectuals and activists who have a rather cynical view of Fulbrights, Rhodes etc. fellowships. Included in the Mutants are writers for the school newspaper The Wave. An article in the newspaper provides an opportunity for 'retribution' in what can be read as a 'morality' play as well as some satire on the political class. Wolfe saves his most devastating portrayals for the fraternities and sorority types. His satire of same overlap with less than flattering portrayals of those privileged students who come to Dupont from elite boarding schools (such as Charlotte's roommate Beverly). Dupont is the home of a Noble winner...a Professor Starling. A description of his experiment starts the novel and sets a tone that I did not fully appreciate until I had finished the book. Whether you like the character of Charlotte or not she serves as a perspective an outsider to the culture (its affluence and excesses). We see the University, its life and its people from her vantage point...as she is called a 'hill billy'...who is treated very disrespectfully, brutally by those students (people) judging solely on wealth, power and connections. 'I am Charlotte Simmons' contains so many details that it is difficult to write a short review.
on December 8, 2004
Of the three books our book club recently read, CHARLOTTE SIMMONS was the biggest hit. The other two were Roth's THE PLOT and McCrae's CHILDREN'S CORNER. While we loved all of these, something about CHARLOTTE hit a nerve--possibly because the majority of our members are recent graduates. I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS takes second place to BONFIRES but is a fun spoof and may be worth sharing with your high-school senior sometimes before freshman orientation. Charlotte has been given the immense gift of fleeing her poor rural life and living amongst contemporary geniuses. What she assumes will be discussion groups on phlosophy and science is, in fact, a campus of frat parties and hooking up. Wolfe interweaves several stories at once. The aspiring nerd journalist, Adam Gelllin, who is hopelessly in love with Charlotte, but never quite gets his fantasies realized, is a great character. Then there's Hoyt Thore, the air headed frat boy who sees in himself the world's macho Jojo Johannson, the athlete in whom Charlotte accidentally sparks a desire to learn. This was just a fun romp and I would highly recommend it along with Roth's book and the McCrae also.
on November 16, 2004
I really didn't know WHAT to expect when I picked up this book-it's been years since I delved into "Wolfe land." We all know about the sex-and-drugs aspect of college, but what does it actually say about the youth? How is college different now with all the social and technological change that has happened in the last 30 years? There are no handy "generation-x" labels for Wolfe to throw on the new generation, and he stumbles in trying to find a message. Perhaps this book is best read as a polemic about the sorry state of higher education today. Hopefully there'll be on BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES comparisons to this book---I can just see it coming. All this said, it IS better than most of the stuff you'll come across. Wolfe is no idiot, and, like Grisham, he's overall and excellent writer with a great mind.
Also very much enjoyed the book THE CHILDREN'S CORNER by Jackson McCrae and the novel THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD. CC is a collection of stories dealing with insight into the human heart and all the baggage that accompanies that, and the "Dogwood" book is probably the most shocking and well written thing ever to be printed. Both are great. Check out CHAROTTE first though.
on January 29, 2005
The major players fit stereotypes but the fringe characters do show some other groups - even if only in momentary glimpses. I enjoyed the book immensely and have recommended it to my friends. I've seen reviewers mention that Wolfe made a much bigger deal about Charlotte losing her virginity than he should have considering the current norms of behavior. I think those people are missing the point. Charlotte's virginity was a huge deal to herself. She went against
everything she believed in, in the way she lost her virginity. Though Tom Wolfe's latest novel has been much criticized by professional critics, I found myself unable to put the book down. The reader finds himself so deeply immersed into Charlotte Simmons character that you feel you have known her for her entire life and are constantly hoping everything turns out well for her. Unlike most novels that readers forget the day after the book is complete, this one stays with you.
on December 29, 2004
As I write this I have not finished reading the novel yet I can already tell that it should be the novel of the decade. When I was at Rice University in the 1970s things were not as bad as they are at Charlotte's fictional (and current) DuPont, but you could see the present day coming. Humans have difficulty achieving balance, and therefore it only stands to reason that once banality becomes acceptable it will be pursued to its logical end. "I Am Charlotte Simmons" makes it pretty clear that the logical end of our banal culture is not far off, and it makes you wonder what the aftermath will be like. "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is not just a scathing attack on collegiate culture, but on broader American culture as well (after all the super hoops players in the novel have FANS), and must rank alongside the great Billy Wilder Films "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Big Carnival" as a a cultural critique.