January 30, 2005

Gratuitous Tylenol-Crazed Llama Book Review

Well, I seem to be on the mend from my bout of flu. While I was bed-ridden yesterday, I polished off Tom Wolfe's My Name Is Charlotte Simmons. Allow me to give you just a few thoughts about it.

In terms of writing, this is classic Wolfe. Smart and snappy. And chocked full of that kind of slide-down-the-razor-blade-into-the-pool-of-alchohol-burn wit of his. I don't have the book right in front of me, so I can't provide any examples off the top of my head, but more than once his crueler passages had me sniggering out loud. This doesn't happen much when I read.

In terms of social commentary, this book is an exercise in full-tilt-boogie scolding. (But of course, that's why you read Wolfe to begin with, right?) Here I think Wolfe has opened himself up a bit to his critics - In his effort to paint Du Pont as Gomorrah University, West Campus, Wolfe crams every single academic horror story he can think of into the place. I don't doubt that just about everything he documents actually occurs (indeed, I saw most of it in my own undergrad days 20 years ago). The trouble is that by distilling out practically all the, what, normal? sane? experiences of college life, he leaves himself with a potent concentrate that is not exactly a caricature, but is close enough to one to be dismissed as such by those who wish to disagree with him. In short, I think that in order to hammer his point home about the corruption of our system of higher education, Wolfe overdoes it a bit.

Finally, I have to say that the most problematic character in the book is Charlotte herself. I just never completely bought into the concept that she could be so academically sophisticated and at the same time so innocent in every other way. The poor mountany background just doesn't sell it in this day and age of universal satellite television (and it's pointed out that the teevee is on in Charlotte's house a lot). Also, I have to admit that I found her apparently incurable naivete to be rather tarsome after a while, to the point that after the climactic trip to Dee Cee with Hoyt, I found myself saying, "Jesus, what did you think was going to happen, ya pinhead?" Perhaps it was just flintiness brought on by too much flu medication.

All in all, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you like Wolfe's work, you'll like this one.

Posted by Robert at January 30, 2005 05:51 PM
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