A decade ago, Tom Wolfe exploded on the scene with his spellbinding Bonfire of the Vanities, which defined an era on Wall Street and gave us memorable insights into the business, minds and lives of bond dealers and financial wizards of many stripes. His plots were fascinating, his characters full and vivid, his themes or morals worthy of note, and his descriptive passages full of revealing metaphors. That’s the good news.
Now, fast forward ten years to 2000, and enters a 700-page elephant, A Man in Full (MIF), which attempts to paint today’s South, as seen from the intestines of Atlanta, in “cool”, “hip” rapper-vernacular and the Good Old Boy jargon of today’s semi-educated, too “Cracker” to be true, Southerners. He gives us an over-complicated, contrived and needlessly protracted story, and peoples it with one-dimensional characters, and burdens readers with street-dialogue that will surely exhaust and bore many readers to tears. To compound this tedium, Wolfe seems fascinated, too, with young women, as he depicts most from a salacious perspective. His “man in full” is Charlie Croker, a moose of a man, an ex-college football player, age 60, who has fallen on hard financial times. Croker, like many of the other characters, is thoroughly dislikable, a once wealthy, solipsistic “seed”, whose name simulates “cracker” and whose English is so “Cracker” as to be almost unintelligible. To add insult to these injuries, Wolfe writes ad nauseam about Atlanta politics, which, of course, is controlled by the blacks, who comprise almost 60% of its population. Wolfe has the reader “high fiving”, giving “high blood”, “low blood” and whatever hand slapping some blacks may do and including those whites who want to pretend to be on the “inside” with their black rulers.
The book seems overdone, buried in hyperbole and bombast, descriptions of things of no interest, affected, and too much of everything to be real about anything. The reader senses that Tom Wolfe (a NYC resident, who was born in Richmond) wouldn’t know the “inside” of Atlanta if it slapped him in the face. He is the proverbial duck out of water in Atlanta; his insults of it may simply stem from ignornace. He may have thought that he was writing an updated “Gone with the Wind”, but his wind is pure hot air, gaseous in fact, and it can’t be “gone” soon enough.