In The Bonfire of the Vanities, an upper-middle-class white Wall Street investment banker who thinks he is on top of the world discovers that his fragile world is in imminent danger of destruction from within. At age thirty-eight, Sherman McCoy is near the peak of his career. He is married and has one young daughter whom he loves but rarely sees because of his hectic double life. In addition to being absorbed in business, he maintains an adulterous relationship with a sexy blonde who is having fun while waiting for her elderly multimillionaire husband to die.
One night while driving his mistress, Maria Ruskin, home, Sherman accidentally takes a wrong turn off the expressway and finds himself in one of the poorest and most dangerous slums of the Bronx. After finding his way back to the expressway, he discovers that the on-ramp is blocked with rubbish, and when he gets out to clear a path, he sees two black youths approaching with obviously sinister intentions. Maria, in panic, slides behind the wheel and calls for him to jump in. Backing up to get around the barricade, she bumps one of the youths and then speeds off without looking back.
They read in the next day’s newspaper that a teenager named Harold Lamb was felled by a hit-and-run driver at that location and is hospitalized in a coma. Lamb eventually provides a description and partial license number of the car that struck him. An alcoholic journalist named Peter Fallow publicizes the incident in his tabloid because of its dramatic potential—a rich white man in a Mercedes-Benz knocking down a poor...
(The entire section is 649 words.)