Wasn't this concluded?
October 28, 2004 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Tom Wolfe resurrects his feud with Irving et al What are the chances that a literary bun toss would reignite, the match lit by the author with a new book due for publication. Maybe Martin Amis will swing buy and bitchslap them all.
posted by Keith Talent (9 comments total)
guy posts the summary to a not-yet published article . . . i make some joke about the weakest link . . . FPP gets deleted . . . life goes on . . . head explodes . . .
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2004

Tom Wolfe addresses ... his contentious relationships with John Updike, John Irving, and Norman Mailer. After their criticism of his previous book, A Man in Full, Wolfe decried, "they've wasted their careers by not engaging the life around them."

Norman Mailer has been playing himself on the Gilmore Girls lately, drinking iced tea and discussing literature and mostly discussing himself at the local hotel/restaurant. While his performance might be self-parody, it is full of vanity and conceit, Mailer referring to himself as the Greatest Living American Author, one of twenty or so authors who think themselves the Greatest Living American Author...

Points go to Gilmore Girls for, as Slate points out, consistently using Literature as a supporting character. But do points go to Mailer for doing TV cameos?

Does anyone find feuding, jealousy and egotism to be unseemly in supposedly intellectual "men of letters"?

Maybe art is not the place for childish competition? Maybe there's always enough room in the world for as much good literature as possible, while sniping and prima donna behavior are simply tawdry, immature and pointless.
posted by Shane at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2004

Darts, innit?
posted by mookieproof at 10:23 AM on October 28, 2004

Pfft. He hasn't written a word worth reading since Look Homeward Angel...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:30 AM on October 28, 2004

Anyone who's read "A Man in Full" knows that Wolfe is a genius who goes places as a reporter and does things in writing like nobody else in the business. "A Man in Full" is packed with stunning scenes like you've never read in a novel -- not by Balzac, not by anybody. The big problem is -- and it's a big problem -- is that Wolfe does not wield that master lasso that can pull all those incredible scenes, all that drama, and all that information together into a novel. Its thousand pulses never merge into a single heartbeat. (There is also a huge failure of nerve at the heat of "A Man in Full," in which some of the principle characters undergo spiritural transformations by reading Epictitus, the stoic philsopher. The unpleasant fact that Wolfe avoids with this element, is that in real American life, the type of spiritual transformations he describes actually happen under the influence of Christianity and the Bible. You can see why he substituted Epictitus, inasmuch as Christianity, with its metaphysics, would have taken over the book.) This is not to say that this book is not more full of life and more full of great writing than any novel ever penned by Norman Mailer -- who did his own kind of excellent intellectual journalism in "Armies of the Night" and "Of a Fire on the Moon," but whose novels fail even worse than Wolfe's.
In any case, Wolfe is really pursuing the wrong, wrong, wrong strategy by attacking contemporaries like Updike and Irving. They are all of them outstanding in their own way (the greatest writers in American history, IMHOP, with Irving maybe a dozen or so notches lower than Updike) -- and Philip Roth is the greatest of them all.
posted by Faze at 6:21 PM on October 28, 2004

"A Man in Full" is packed with stunning scenes like you've never read in a novel -- not by Balzac, not by anybody.

If it's at all possible to find excerpts online that you can link to, please do. I've never heard anyone be this enthusiastic about Wolfe. I'm curious as to what you find so wonderful about that book -- I read "Bonfire of the Vanities" and it didn't do much for me, so I didn't bother with "A Man in Full."

I agree that the Roth oeuvre is the most impressive of all the writers you mention here, though the Rabbit series by Updike will always make me weep at its greatness.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:51 PM on October 28, 2004

_sirmissalot_, Thanks for your interest. I reviewed "A Man in Full" for my local paper. Here's what I wrote about it back then...

Weighing in at almost 800 pages, "A Man in Full" comes on like the World Wrestling Federation in suits and ties. It's a book about men, manhood and the force of male sexual energy in race, business, sports and politics ... even interior design. It's a bulging, body-slamming book, dripping with funky animal sweat and ringing with the hoarse cries of male combat. It's also, much less convincingly, about men trying to climb out of the testosterone arena and find higher meaning.

"A Man in Full" swirls around bull-necked Charlie Croker, a blowhard Atlanta real estate developer. Croker's got some bull-sized problems. To impress his new trophy wife, the 60-year-old Croker has overextended himself to build a huge vanity office tower in an Atlanta edge city.

Now Croker can't pay back his loans. The bank has turned no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy, and has started taking possession of his most cherished valuables, like his private jet and his favorite N.C. Wyeth painting.

Worst of all, they are threatening to take "Turpmtine," Croker's vast quail hunting plantation, where Croker keeps his shotgun collection, catches rattlesnakes with his bare hands and plays the kindly Massa to a resident bevy of black employees.

It looks like Croker's cooked. But then he gets a strange request from Atlanta's black mayor. A racial situation is brewing. It seems that a black Georgia Tech running back has been accused of date-raping the white daughter of one of Croker's big real estate buddies. The mayor is afraid the situation will lead to riots in the city. He asks Croker (a former football star himself) to double-cross his buddy, and make a public statement favorable to the black running back.

If Croker does this, the mayor promises to get the bank to let Croker keep all his beloved possessions, and his life will go on as before. Will Croker do the right thing? Just what is the right thing?

But there's far more than Croker and his problems going on here.

Like "Bonfire of the Vanities," Wolfe's latest is more thickly peopled than the deck of the Titanic. And like the passengers skittering down that tilting surface, a lot of them seem to be grasping desperately for something to hang onto.

With dozens of crisp, wicked characterizations, Wolfe nails Atlantans of every sex, race and class absolutely to the wall: their flesh, fashions and agonizing social fears. Some of these character are so vivid, they will turn up in your dreams (the running back accused of rape is as creepy as Gollum in "Lord of the Rings").

Wolfe is, of course, a consummate journalist. And "A Man in Full" is brilliantly and exhaustively reported. There must be a room in his house piled to the ceiling with the notebooks he filled researching subjects ranging from prison rape, to orthopedic surgery, to all the messy details of equine coition. (Wait until you find out what "winking" means.)

"A Man in Full" is not one book. It is many books. A lengthy review could be written on its deeply unsettling view of race relations. Another on its terrifying depiction of a decent man trying to survive in a brutal prison.

In all this crowded, marvelous work, there is one enormous disappointment.

Wolfe concludes his main plotline with modern Hollywood's most exhausted cliche: a character making a shocking, unexpected revelation in front of millions of people on live TV. (He even gives us the "What did he say?" reaction shots of the people watching at home.) This is unforgivable in a writer who shows himself to be otherwise, so narratively resourceful.

There are no shadows in this book, no hidden places. Nothing is left to the reader's imagination.

Like male sexuality itself, "A Man in Full" is all upfront: Take it or leave it.

If you're smart, you'll take it.
posted by Faze at 6:24 AM on October 29, 2004

Interesting. Thanks for posting that.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:29 AM on October 29, 2004

Meet Tom Wolfe: Win a trip to NYC and "an afternoon of engaging repartee."
posted by shoepal at 8:47 AM on November 4, 2004

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