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Tom Wolfe


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

This pioneering anthology established a model for the personal, subjective style of New Journalism. The first essay attempts to capture the spirit of the city of Las Vegas and is typical of Wolfe’s self-conscious satirical method. Fascinated by the vulgar spectacle of Las Vegas, Wolfe was able to fashion a verbal style to suit the substance, a style that is itself excessive and prolix, repeating key words and motifs. The essay herniates itself in the first paragraph, for example, where the word “hernia” is repeated fifty-seven times, catching the babble of a casino zombie at the craps table. Wolfe piles words on top of one another to create a verbal cascade; he fractures syntax for effect; he overpunctuates, overloading his sentences, as in the title of his lead essay, “Las Vegas (what?) Las Vegas (can’t hear you! too noisy) Las Vegas!!!”

At the end of the book, Wolfe describes “The Big League Complex” of New Yorkers with the wonderment of an outsider. Years later, in The Bonfire of the Vanities, he reworks this theme from the vantage point of an insider who has achieved status and tasted its hollowness. Wolfe later coined the phrase “The Me Decade” to describe the 1970’s, after having helped to create the style of that decade. Each tirade of excess, every verbal spasm of his decadent and psychedelic style, is designed to capture the reader’s attention with the unstated but insistent plea: Look at me!

Throughout the book, Wolfe is fascinated by cultural eccentricity. In “Clean Fun at Riverhead,” he profiles Lawrence Mendelsohn, who created and then promoted the notion of the demolition derby as a new “sport.” Other selections reveal a fixation on automobiles...

(The entire section is 703 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Edwards, Thomas R. “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” The New York Review of Books 35 (February 4, 1988): 8-9.

Ewers, Justin. “Wolfe on Campus [Thomas Wolfe and his new novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons].” U.S. News & World Report 137, no. 17 (November 15, 2004): 78-80.

Kamp, David. “The White Stuff.” Vanity Fair 457 (September, 1998): 284-287.

Leonard, John. “Delirious New York.” The Nation 245 (November 28, 1987): 636-640.

McGrath, Charles. “Wolfe’s World.” The New York Times Magazine, October 31, 2004, 34-39.

Powers, Thomas. “Wolfe in Orbit.” Commonweal 106 (October 12, 1979): 551-552.

Will, George F. “Tom Wolfe’s Rooftop Yawp [A Man in Full].” Newsweek 132, no. 21 (November 23, 1998): 96.

Wolfe, Tom, and E. W. Johnson, eds. The New Journalism. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.