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The self-immolation of the vain


Is it just me, or does Tom Wolfe’s new novel about college life seem like its pretension-to-achievement score will be surpass even the dreaded Ryan Adams ratio? Kakutani’s hatchet job seems persuasive, but admittedly she hates a lot of books unreservedly, some of which are quite good. The real giveaway, to me, is when someone in giving a book a positive review describes a novel that is unspeakably atrocious. Take it away, Charles McGrath:

What he saw and what he heard are enough to give the parent of any college-age child the willies, and may even be news to those college administrators who were unwise enough to let him wander around unchaperoned. [Yes–if these administrators could live in Houston for 20 years and still be surprised every summer that it’s hot.–ed.]

A few students apparently go to class at Dupont, but not enough — real class, that is, and not, say, Frere Jocko, which is French for jocks, or Jock Sprache (German, ditto), Rocks for Jocks (geology) and Vox for Jox (communications). Athletes, and basketball players in particular, are far more important than the faculty at Dupont, and so for that matter are the fraternity guys, who wear the undergrad power uniform: ”ankle-high boots, khaki pants with no crease, a bulky knit crewneck sweater, a flannel shirt open at the throat — and on top of all that, a navy melton-cloth overcoat . . . single-breasted, long, reaching down well below the knees, lined in navy silk.”

Rivers of alcohol slosh through ”I Am Charlotte Simmons,” and on practically every page there’s an exposure of ”winking navels,” ”iliac crests” or ”loamy loins.”

Yes, I concede the point. If one considers “loamy loins” a piece of clever writing (I would have thought that using the word “loins” roughly 40 times a page in A Man in Full would have gotten it out of Wolfe’s system, but I guess not), then you should probably pick up this doorstop. More importantly, if you consider the facts that college students like to drink and fuck, that there are many notorious bird courses that have the same nicknames they did during the Nixon Administration, that undergraduates are not necessarily assiduous scholars, and that athletes are privileged on campus earth-shattering insights that only extensive field reporting could have unearthed, then by all means pick up I Am Charlotte Simmons. While you’re at it, make sure to pick up a copy of my new book The Sky is Blue, The Devil Rays Will Suck, and The Republicans Will Take Alabama, which I’m sure you’ll also enjoy.

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