introducing readers to writers since 1995

November 10, 2004

Somewhere, Some Woman Named Charlotte Simmons
Is Ready to Punch the Next Guy Who Cracks Wise

by Ron Hogan

"What is a publisher to do when a writer's celebrity has outstripped his work?" asks NYDN book reviewer Celia McGee on IACS publication day. As if the answer weren't obvious: cash in on the celebrity and send your boy on the road with a full-page ad in the Times. Tom Wolfe, for that's who we're talking about, also rates a NYDN profile, where he reveals that he wanted to write the novel because "I had begun to hear stories about colleges that mostly had to do with sex, drink, drugs and political correctness," which--the last bit aside--seems like about 90 percent of the stories about college in recorded human history, or am I wrong?

In other reviews, Ron Charles reaches back to "George H.W. Bush telling us about those new scanners at the grocery store" to indicate to Christian Science Monitor readers just how out-of-touch Wolfe has become, while Priya Jain of Salon adds, "It's hard to imagine whom Wolfe intended this 676-page study for, if not those who have done some time on campus, and that makes his effort all the more puzzling. One imagines Jane Goodall turning her research over to her chimps; what would they do except roll their eyes and say, 'Yeah -- and?'" And then Melinda Bargreen...well, she may be the first reviewer in America to actually like this "terrific (if frequently depressing) coming-of-age story, with a protagonist unlike any of his previous characters" (i.e., a chick). And though she admits he might be a little hyperbolic, she's wowed by how Wolfe "spent several weeks in residence at four different universities, soaking up atmosphere and dialogue and details." One possibly relevant circumstance: Bargreen is actually the Seattle Times classical music editor, not a regular book critic. (Which is not to say that classical music folk can't review books, only that they might conceivably approach texts with a different critical matrix than someone who spends all his or her time dealing with books.)

If you enjoy this blog,
your PayPal donation
can contribute towards its ongoing publication.