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am 29. Juli 2000
Tom Wolfe's kinetic style of writing takes some getting used to. He piles words on top of words, images on top of images, flinging them all at the reader with a fastball pitch. The pitch, though, is well-thrown.
Wolfe's subject is New York City during the 1980s. He touches as many groups as he can -- wealthy Upper East Side socialites, tabloid journalists, criminals and burnt-out agents of justice in the Bronx, cut-throat sleazy lawyers, unscrupulous Wall Street stockbrokers... No class of people escapes having its faults exposed in Wolfe's sharp, accurate prose.
Wolfe is sociologist first, novelist second. He probes the psychology of all these disparate groups and finds a common denominator: selfishness. All people are out for themselves no matter who is destroyed along the way.
At the same time he satirizes the dark side of the human experience, Wolfe makes it impossible to hate any of the characters. There is no true villain in this story. As readers, we are left with just the uncomfortable sensation of recognizing human nature's ugly parts.
"How much differently would you act in this situation?" is Wolfe's implicit question. There are no easy answers.
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am 16. März 2013
In 1987 “New Journalist” and aging enfant terrible Tom Wolfe published his first novel as a panoramic satire of New York City, and very few people or groups come off looking very good. As in other works, such as ‘Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers’ and ‘The Right Stuff’, Mr. Wolfe tries to overwhelm the reader, with a near endless repetition of highly flammable illustrative phrases, (HIS FIRST NOVEL!) and secret sartorial details (REAL BUTTONHOLES!), inner monologue, overstatements (never understatements though), and relishing in acomplishments, not to talk about accoutrements of New Journalism. Nevertheless, his writing is so amazing he can get away with it, simply because he had done his research and knows exactly what he’s writing about, how to tell a good story – and equally important – how to make us laugh. Before this bonfire, Mr. Wolfe had roasted Leonard Bernstein for his famous fundraising party he threw for the Black Panthers at his Park Avenue apartment, including white waiters to serve drinks and the roast.

The book is also the portrait of a very specific period in American history, the 1980s and the rise of the ‘Masters of the Universe’ and their investment schemes. New York City is suffering from racial tension. Reverend Bacon, a black leader who can fill TV screens with demonstrators, intimidates the mayor and other white leaders. At the center of Yale man Tom Wolfe’s novel is Sherman McCoy (St. Paul’s, Yale) reminding us of Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street’ that also appeared in 1987 and starred Micheal Douglas. McCoy at thirty-eight is “going broke on a million dollars a year!” As the Douglas character he is the star bond trader for a leading Wall Street investment banking firm (probably he would be making a good deal more than a million, with boiler room tactics, but never mind), but his incompetence at personal finance has put him deeply in the red. Like the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ by Jordan Belfort, his house in Southampton, the four servants, the private school tuitions, the cars and clothes and dinner parties – are all a great mirage. All he cares for are appearances, sex and money, whereas his interior decorating wife, his decorative daughter and libidinous maîtresse just seem accoutrements of his success. In a certain sense of radical chic Mr. Wolfe seems to foretell ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis that’s also set in the late 1980s in New York City. Wolfe also mocks all the status madness but fires away without creating the killing spree.

Sherman McCoy who lives at the upper East Side doesn’t seem to know the city, he’s all surface and after picking up his lovebird Maria Ruskin at Jeffkay Airport he takes the wrong exit ramp and they become lost in their ostentatious Mercedes in the Bronx. Frantically they are trying to find their way back to Manhattan, and at an on-ramp they encounter two young black men in what they are sure is an attempted carjacking. In the course of the incident, Maria takes the wheel of the car, and they escape, not sure if they have hit one of the men. Well, they have and have even seriously injured one of them.

As the plot develops, McCoy becomes the victim of a social system that is based on power and an existential odyssey thru’ American jurisprudence. This is the power play of prosecutors like D.A. Kramer (a working slob) and Judge Krovitsky (a burnt-out case) who only want to further their careers and the mayor seeking reelection. McCoy’s biggest problem seems to be that he failed to make powerful friends or FLAK CATCHERS, so the press, the police, the clergy, and assorted hustlers high and low are at his heels, licking their chops and giving us a gigantic helping to understand the comédie humaine of New York City in the last years of the 20th century.
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am 3. Dezember 1999
I have been a Tom Wolfe fan for over two decades but continue to think that his real talent is for the essay and not for long fiction. Like Mailer, he seems to be able to string words together with unnerring skill but has trouble sustaining a tight narrative. Mostly, for me, what kept this book from coming alive was my dislike for the main characters. I just didn't care what happened to them. Rather, nothing could be bad enough. This is pure prejudice on my part, but I can't get past it. I hate these folks - their lifestyle, their values, their friends, their work, their entire social world - and I really don't want to read about them. Certainly not read this many pages. Couldn't he have punctured the hero's little life in half the number of pages and not left the reader so numb?
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am 18. Dezember 2002
Iam more than happy that I finally read the book, although I knew about it for a long time. during my free-time I read a lot and this book was a terrific read, one of the best books I ever picked up.
it is about the fall of sherman mccoy, a wall street 'wunderkind'. one night, he and his 'foxy love' take the wrong exit of the freeway and find themselves in the bronx. by accident, they hit a joung black male. the hit-and-run causes them unthinable trouble and from now on, everything goes straight downhill. simultaneously, many other people take advantage of their doom. foremost, the journalist p. fallow and rev. bacon. the book is full of interesting, funny, and bad characters (especially mccoy himself who is indescribably arrogant, the english journalist as well as the slimy, sycophant kramer and the 'influencial' rev. bacon to name but a few) and wolfe provides an excellent description of ny in the late 80's. however, due to the fact that iam german I do not know whether everything is true or a slightly exaggerated description. but I perosnally think it doesn't matter at all because the message is clear: in an achievement-oriented society everyone is only interested in its own benefits and goes 'over dead bodies' to reach more and more. of course, it is stereotyping but I safely assume that this is true and undenieable at least to a certain degree.
the bonfire of the vanities is a bitter-sweet, satiric, funny, dramatic, and enthralling novel everyone ought to read. maybe one of the finest american novels of recent times. what I liked most is the fact that there are no 'real heroes' and almost every character shows its dreadful, abhorrent side. of course, the book has its lenght but its worthwile to proceed because the pace is always high and so many amazing things occur although one might correctly guess what is supposed to happen next.
moreover, wolf's writing is great, in particular the different linguistic details in terms of dialects, abusive language etc. are absolutely fabulous. with a clear conscience, I highly recommend this book. one last advice, stay away from the movie! for people who haven't read the book it might be not too bad but for everyone who has read the book it is a tremendous dissapointment and maybe one of the worst movie-adaptions ever. absolutely terrible!!!
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am 16. Februar 2014
I’ve read this book for a „Reading Journal“ for my english lessons. In my opinion, it’s a absolutly great story, but on the first 100 pages, the story are really verbose. So it’s very hard to read this part of book. The social conflicts in this book and the style of speaking are observed and rewrite in great detail from Wolfe. All in all, it’s a nice and interesting story.
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am 2. September 2013
Mit teils schwarzem Humor spannend und intellektuell ansprechend geschriebene Gesellschaftskritik aus dem New York der 80er Jahre. Man leidet heftig mit dem Protagonisten mit und muss mit ansehen, wie er sich immer tiefer in sein - eigentlich vermeidbares - Schicksal verstrickt. Gleichzeitig ist die Schreibe von Wolff witzig und amüsant.
Absolut empfehlenswert!
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am 14. Juli 1998
Outstanding! The story at first seems to meander, but even Wolfe's seemingly innocuous first 3 chapters serve their purpose. Sherman McCoy is such a completely self-centered, sheltered, wealthy individual that the mere sight of a young black male in his posh Manhattan neighborhood practically gives him a panic attack. Wolfe also skillfully shows how the sophisticated, Yale-educated stockbroker Sherman is reduced to a hormone-ridden high-school boy at the prospect of a secret rendezvous with his sexy, desirable young mistress, Maria. His bumbling phone call to his wife Judy prepares us for exactly how poorly he will be prepared to handle any events that deviate even slightly from his closed, insular life. The other 3 main characters are just as sharply drawn. Larry Kramer is the poor man's Sherman McCoy. Just as Sherman risks everything he has, including his marriage, for a woman he lusts over, Kramer does the same, risking the opportunity of a lifetime to act out on his! ! unfulfilled fantasies of "the girl with the brown lipstick". Reverend Bacon, an obvious parody of Al Sharpton, is shown in all of his self-righteous posturing and slick insincerity (his motivations in "helping victims" are less than pure). Peter Fallow, the British tabloid "journalist", is a first-rate opportunist who uses other people's tragedies to save his flagging career (he's desperate to get the "Big Story", truth be damned, since he's about to be fired for his habitual drunkenness). His snobbery about the crude "Yanks" provide a lot of the humor; as much as he reviles Americans, he is not averse to mooching dinners and drinks from them. One of the funniest chapters consists of his dinner with Maria's tycoon husband. The finest creation of the secondary characters is Myron "Mike" Kovitsky, the no-nonsense judge who won't buckle under to the pressures of popular demand. His manner in dealing with the caged crimi! ! nals, for instance, is a classic: he gets down to their lev! el of cat-calling in his own unique, vulgar way. This stubborn trait never changes throughout the novel; he is perhaps the only truly noble character to be found. I wish there had been more memorable female characters; as it is, Maria is the only stand-out among the "social X-rays and lemon tarts", including Judy McCoy (I would have liked to see her character expanded). Predictably, Maria plays a large part in the resulting comic tragedy and shows herself to be completely self-centered, utterly without a conscience and purely carnal in her instincts. Maria, not the sterotypical fragile Southern belle she at first appears to be, is not easily intimidated and proves to be much more of a ruthless cut-throat than Sherman the Scheming Stockbroker, who soon falls apart at work as well as in his personal life. The satire is first-rate, although some of the "privileged party" scenes are occasionally dragged out too long. Wolfe shows that there is no limit or except! ! ions to greed and opportunism in any class line, from the blacks in the Bronx to the WASP-y Manhattan socialites to the British tabloid "sleaze journalists". Some people have suggested that the epilogue was a cop-out; I happened to like it, because it provided a bit of realism to the satire. Especially observe how Sherman, as an accused criminal, is the toast of Manhattan, and after his trial, appears to have been deserted.
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I don't wish to make a proclamation that this is the "best American book ever written," nor do I want to complain about an "inadequate" ending. All I can say about this book is that, from the first chapter's over-the-top description of the mayor's speech in Harlem, "Bonfire" consistently held my attention. (I'm sorry to say that I can't say the same about the more recent "A man in Full.") The sheer unfortunate reality of Wolfe's writing is, as many will tell you, a precise color photograph taken then and there in 1987, complete with polarizing filter and an all-too-true vibrancy. It's the kind of book that might be depressing to read soon after its publication and yet evokes quite a few biting, almost nostalgic memories of those infamously coarse upwardly-mobile days of yore. And while I was a mere four years old when I myself was caught in the middle of that web of 58th-and-Sutton "would you like to draw pictures in the Met, Samantha?" Upward Mobility, this seems to accurately capture that era that I at the time failed to understand but am now sure existed just as Wolfe has said.
And yet "Bonfire" is by no means historical fiction. Rather, our good friend Tom manages to do what I've always maintained a good satirist should do: Keep a perfect distance. Wolfe manages to edge close enough to his characters to dig into their minds and show us what's inside -- and yet he stays far enough away that he can poke fun and them with his usual slightly-supercilious air.
This perfect distance of his seems to be what ensures a constantly entertaining read. Seldom do the often-lengthy descriptions bore the reader; such minor allusions as that to the "tub and shower stall module -- module! -- a single molded unit that deflected slightly when he stepped into the tub" remain startling real, making the abrupt ending not at all unsatisfying but rather entirely appropriate and understandable; with literature this interesting, why would one ask for a happy ending?
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am 30. September 1999
I can't help but be amused at the irony of how this satirical masterpiece, among whose targets is the ridiculous overpoliticization of our age, tends to be viewed by its admirers and detractors alike through ideological blinders. Some view it as an attack on the "Decade Of Greed," as if that basic human frailty could be confined to a single period of time. Some see it as a jeremaid against liberalism, as if the more asinine PC platitudes of the Left somehow discredit the entire liberal enterprise. Some view it as a repudiation of the wealthy, although Wolfe shows in agonizing detail that greed, lust, envy, ruthless ambition and pathological self-absorption can be found on all the rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Others think it's strictly about New York, and in one sense they're right; but most of the foibles depicted in "Bonfire" can be found in Anyburg, U.S.A. Others grouse that the characters are too morally ambiguous: McCoy is too much an admixture of hero, villain, and victim for them to know how to respond to him. And where's the happy ending?
Look, the whole point of good satire is to shed light on the more pathetic aspects of the human condition, not to grind specific social, cultural, or political axes or to prescribe panaceas. What "Bonfire," like all good satire, does is force us to confront the demons in our own hearts and minds and reexamine our motivations and actions. Wolfe's book has something to offend (and challenge) everyone: rich folks, poor folks, blacks, whites, Jews, Christians, agnostics, New Yorkers, non-New Yorkers, liberals, conservatives, politicians, journalists, lawyers, cops, crooks, bums, husbands, wives. This novel transcends time, place, and ideology. It's one for the ages.
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am 27. Juli 1999
From it's thrilling opening to its open-ended conclusion, this is a book you not only want to keep reading and reading but never forget about afterwards. All the characters - their wants, fears, ambitions, and failures - make them human and believable. Depraved though they may all be, they are too complex merely to be shrugged off as "unlikable." What makes this book great is not only its wonderful and on-point observations of New York but also its brilliant little touches: "The Masters of the Universe," the wonderful "Hack hack hack hacking" laughs, the hilarious tabloid headline "Scalp Grandma, Then Rob Her" and on and on and on. I predict that fifty years from now school kids will be reading this along with "The Great Gatsby" as one of the defining novels of the twentieth century. It is a fierce and uncompromising look at "the way we live now" and its greatness comes from the fact that it doesn't spare anyone. I could write a whole book about how good "Bonfire" is and surely this book exists on so many levels that years from now people will write multitudes about its numerous meanings. And so on. One question: what does "Heh-heggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh" mean?
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