(Masterpieces of American Literature)

A Man in Full is another massive Wolfe effort, 742 pages in length, which reveals his indebtedness to the nineteenth century French naturalists and Victorian realists. There are two major plot lines, several significant subplots, and literally hundreds of characters. The dual protagonists are Charles “Charlie” Croker, a once powerful businessman whose real estate empire is rapidly crumbling around him, and Conrad Hensley, young, married, father of two, whose straits are even more desperate than Charlie’s. Charlie has overbuilt a large office complex and has gone deeply into debt in the process. As a result, one of Charlie’s allied businesses, Croker Global Foods, near Oakland, California, must lay off workers. Conrad Hensley is one of these employees. The two protagonists’ fortunes spiral downward simultaneously.

The construction of the narrative is reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1878), wherein the stories of Anna and Levin proceed separately and do not really converge until almost page 700 of an 800-page novel. Similarly, for most of A Man in Full, Charlie is fighting for his fortune and the life that he has known in the Southeast, while Conrad suffers on the West Coast. Both stories are rich in incident and reflect Wolfe’s attitude toward fiction—why, with the wealth of material America affords (race relations, sexual mores, regional and class distinctions, the cult of celebrity, fortunes won and...

(The entire section is 566 words.)