The Bonfire of Vanities
by Tom Wolf
Tom Wolf, famed journalist and documenter of 60's counterculture, published his first novel in 1987, The Bonfire of Vanities
, which found immediate commercial and critical success. The book's protagonist, Sherman McCoy, is a successful Wall-Street bond trader enjoying a happy family and a beautiful mistress.
As political and social turmoil begins to boil in the Bronx, the unaware McCoy finds himself the great white whale of an Ahab District Attorney determined to win reelection at all costs. A young black youth is comatose, and the fingers point to McCoy's fancy Mercedes.
- Wolf proves himself to be a talented satirist, giving readers a no holds barred depiction of New York high life, slums and ghettos, the criminal justice system, and human psychology.
- The use of identity to drive the story. At the outset, McCoy thinks of himself as a "Master of the Universe".
- Wolf squeezes out every drop of humor to be found in the brute, ugly reality of his novel's New York.
- The novel's narrator is omniscient, and ably presents many complicated characters, allowing the reader to sympathize while judging these remarkably human individuals. Expect to be drawn back and forth in sympathies as each character's perspective is given.
- The plot is masterful, and drives the action on to its necessary conclusion with logical surprises throughout.
- Bring a dictionary. Wolf's vocabulary is impressive and he is not shy in making full use of this asset. This might be a turn off to some should they find themselves looking up words a couple of times each chapter. Hemingway? Fuhgidaboudit.
- My copy is just shy of seven hundred pages. Although the story is fun and difficult to set down, you might be holding the book for a minute longer than most novels.
- Wolf is no nice guy. With characters of varied ethnicity, cultural background, and social status, chances are something about you will be satirized. Cry babies beware.
HIGHLIGHTS (to name a few):
- McCoy's wife belittling her husband's profession after Sherman fumbles trying to explain just exactly what he does to the couple's six year old daughter.
- Reverend Bacon's manipulation of everything, especially in his "steam" speech explaining the use of minority angst.
- The self-consciousness of Assistant DA Kramer
- Wolf's depiction of "The Hive", the high life social gathering of stuck up New York elites
- The morbid hilarity of an insanely wealthy businessman keeling-over dead in a chic restaraunt
My Rating: Forget numbers, books don't get much better than this. Instant favorite. I have to give it a reread, and soon.