fb pixel

Log In


Reset Password

Tom Wolfe's book, 'I am Charlotte Simmons,' satisfies

Tom Wolf has a remarkable genius. He is a master storyteller, — who is also gifted with extraordinary powers of observation, combined — with an ability to weave same into a story that is not only informative, — in the sense that the reader is immersed in a particular cultural milieu, — but surprisingly, even delightfully compelling. Over the last several — decades he has repeatedly flexed this muscular ability to capture a wedge — of Americana and give it force and new dimension. Consider those contemporary, — socially incisive classics such as "The Electric Acid Kool-Aide Test," — "The Right Stuff," "A Man in Full" and "Bonfire of the Vanities."

In "I am Charlotte Simmons," Wolfe creates a naive protagonist — in one Charlotte Simmons, a brilliant student from the smallest of towns — in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and puts her on the campus — of one of the most prestigious and lofty universities in America, Dupont — (read any of the prominent eastern universities). And though Charlotte — is academically prepared to step into any class and prevail, so honed — are her academic skills, she is most definitely ill-prepared for the juggernaut — referred to as "campus life." And it is Charlotte's baptism into campus — society that the reader is introduced, with energy and humor and startling — fresh prose, to a culture that while ever-present and evolving on campuses — across America, remains remote, available only to those who are living — it. In other words, if you're not there, you can't really understand. — And even if you were there, that was then and, as Wolfe so insightfully — proves, this is now. Is it ever.

It is through Charlotte's eyes that we are introduced — to the frats, to what it means to be cool and uncool, what sports means — to a top tier university, and to the sexual mores of that collective known — as the undergraduates, the bonds of which have become so loose that restraint — has all but evaporated, displaced by a level of carnality that, for the — unprepared, simply takes your breath away. What is talked about, in the — most open and frank and base patois, is also done.

Wolfe writes in a clean an easygoing style that is completely — accessible; however, his rapid-fire prose is also complex, electric even, — filled with descriptions that would cause any trained anthropologist to — sigh with envy. He takes the reader on a journey into the territory known — as the "college campus" and describes its inhabitants, that tribe that — has come together to do far more than just crack the books, right down — to their Diesel jeans, hot overcoats, spiffy khakis, de rigueur shirts — and shoes and tonsorial fashion, their ritualistic parties and sense of — entitlement and dominion over all that is known as "campus life."

Wolfe loads up each page with language and observations — that, while prodigious and endlessly interesting, never overshadow the — story. Here are the frats and sororities, the independents, the intellectuals, — the professors, the dorms, the uber-coach, the jocks, the hard-core "playas," — and so much more. And all of it is sorted out, at times disastrously, — by Charlotte, who is wide-eyed, a deer caught in the blindingly bright — headlights of an experience for which nothing in her background could — ever have prepared her.

While "I am Charlotte Simmons" is long (676 pages), it — only spans one semester and the plot never feels unwieldily. Wolfe never — loses control. And truth be told, when that last page is turned it is — with regret that the door to Dupont closes, for time spent there, on campus, — with the characters, with Charlotte, is not only interesting but enlightening. —

Parents of children who are twitching with anticipation — as they prepare to leave hearth and home and head off to a campus somewhere — in the U.S. this fall should read this novel and then ... well, do what? — At least know that it's a whole new world out there and once the son or — daughter says good-bye, perhaps standing in that small dorm room no larger — than the pantry at home, life will never be the same. Not for him or her — and certainly not for the parents. If you doubt that, then by all means, — find "I am Charlotte Simmons" and give it a slow and careful read. It — is, at the very least, profoundly edifying.