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At the beginning of the story, we meet a delusional Sherman McCoy. He believes he’s a Master of the Universe because he takes nine-digit orders from clients every other day. Yet McCoy is only a middleman: as his wife explains to their little daughter, “If you pass around enough slices of cake, then pretty soon you have enough crumbs to make a gigantic cake. ” Besides, his elevation to a presumptive Master of the Universe was accidental: when he started in the bond department, the market was not that hot and his colleagues were known as “Bond Bores”. Nor did he have to fight his way into New York high society – thanks to his father, a famous corporate lawyer. Delusional, not despicable. Yes, Sherman is unfaithful to his wife; but. .. A professor’s daughter, she has always looked down on him “from a wholly fictive elevation” while spending his money on attempts at interior design. To her credit, she does not turn against McCoy when he falls on hard times. She takes their daughter and merely disappears, unlike Sherman’s duplicitous mistress. The gods enlighten Sherman in their usual way, through pain and disgrace. Cured of the ignorance that fed his hubris, the man turns into a fighter – unless I am reading too much into the final scene. No, I don’t think I am: this is not merely a story of a man stripped of his innocence – sorry, ignorance. Knowing Wolfe’s later work and his affinity for Zola, I can think of The Bonfire as one installment from a never-written McCoy family history. Otherwise, why mention William Sherman McCoy, the protagonist’s paternal grandfather, a hick from Knoxville, TN, in the eyes of aristocratic New Yorkers?I take it as a clue: there’s a fighting spirit, a certain stubbornness and stand-your-ground diehardism that run in the family and come out when the youngest McCoy is pushed to the wall. “In well-reared girls and boys, guilt and the instinct to obey the rules are reflexes, ineradicable ghosts in the machine. ” True, but when Sherman faces a demented crowd, his fear and loathing erase this defeatist deference. By the way, why would a Southerner be named Sherman? My guess is because Knoxville is different: it’s in the east of Tennessee, by the mountains; incidentally, Charlotte Simmons of Wolfe’s third novel grew up a little further east, over the border in North Carolina. In 1861, East Tennessee voted to stay in the Union; Republican sympathies were strong; Knoxville was divided; pro-Union local guerrillas burned bridges during the 1861-63 Confederate occupation; the 1st Alabama cavalry regiment which escorted Sherman to the sea was largely Tennessean. So there’s “Sherman” – the hard-war general and the hard-war tank – and there’s “McCoy”, but which of them is the real one? – and there’s some obstinate farmer in the background who’d fight the slaveholders both sides of the Blue Ridge. Check it out!
Amazon.com Review After Tom Wolfe defined the ’60s in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and the cultural U-turn at the turn of the ’80s in The Right Stuff, nobody thought he could ever top himself again. In 1987, when The Bonfire of the Vanities arrived, the literati called Wolfe an “aging enfant terrible.” He wasn’t aging; he was growing up. Bonfire’s pyrotechnic satire of 1980s New York wasn’t just Wolfe’s best book, it was the best bestselling fiction debut of the decade, a miraculously realistic study of an unbelievably status-mad society, from the fiery combatants of the South Bronx to the bubbling scum at the top of Wall Street. Sherman McCoy, a farcically arrogant investment banker (dubbed a “Master of the Universe,” Wolfe’s brilliant metaphorical co-opting of a then-important toy for boys), hits a black guy in the Bronx with his Mercedes and runs–right into a nightmare peopled by vicious mistresses, thin wives like “social x-rays,” slime-bag politicos, tabloid hacks, and Dantesque denizens of the “justice” system. If the Coen and Marx brothers together dramatized The Great Gatsby, Wolfe’s Bonfire would probably be funnier. Many think his second novel, A Man in Full, is deeper, but Bonfire will never die down. You might find it interesting to compare the film The Bonfire of the Vanities, a fascinating calamity perpetrated by the geniuses Brian De Palma and Tom Hanks, with The Right Stuff, one of the very best films of the ’80s. –Tim Appelo –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The Bonfire of the Vanities Paperback – March 4, 2008 by Tom Wolfe (Author) Review
What a dark, unforgiving, cynical world we live in ! On the one hand we have rich white New Yorkers who are vain, arrogant, inconsiderate and amoral. On the other hand we have black residents of the Bronx who are devious, manipulative, irresponsible, violent, racists and amoral. Caught between the two we have politicians, journalists, policemen and jurists (black and white) who see it all either as a form of entertainment or a way of climbing the professional ladder. It would be wrong to see this novel as a blacks Vs whites story. Its only the clash between bad and bad ; utterly depressing, but also utterly fascinating, and supported by a great writing style and a wry sense of humor. -Read Reviews-
This book has excellent characters that are so real, one is not sure it is fiction. Tom Wolfe is a satirist, laughs at the crazy world of New York, and brings out a keen analysis of human behavior in an ingenious plot that shows the pretense and posturing of all socioeconomic levels of New York society. It is an anthropological study that a reader can enjoy in several readings of this novel.
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