The Right Coast

May 03, 2005
Book Recommendation: Tom Wolfe Goes to College
By Mike Rappaport

I recently finished Tom Wolfe's new novel, I am Charlotte Simmons. It was quite good -- kind of a Bonfire of the Vanities in the Ivy League.

The book displays Wolfe's genius at observing and describing character types in modern society -- especially their flaws. Like Bonfire, this book has many unforgettable portraits, of frat boys and sorority girls, of freshmen misfits and cynical professors, and of college basketball players. The descriptions are so powerful that I can no longer think of these character types the same way, which is saying something coming from someone who works in a college. (The same was true of my reaction to Bonfire, which described a New York City I had grown up in.)

The only flaw in this book is that Wolfe's ability to see the dark side blinds him to the light side. None of the characters are sympathetic. I don't like a single one of them, really. Even cynics like some people.

Despite this flaw, I would strongly recommend this book, especially to those who want some insight into modern college life.