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A review of a review of Tom Wolfe' s new book

The literary powers that be always consider the release of a new Tom Wolfe book the literary event of the season. His last two works, The Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full were monstrous best sellers and raved by most critics. Now comes his latest work, I Am Charlotte Simmons.

His past works have tried to take his readers into unknown worlds—upper class New York, big-business machinations—and his latest work decides to delve into the world of college. It has already been speculated by many, although North Carolina native and Duke parent Wolfe denies it, that the fictional college in the book is based on Duke.

The News and Observer of Raleigh wrote as much in one of its articles on the book. It’s not hard to make the connection. Though set in rural Pennsylvania, the fictional Dupont University is a small top-ten U.S. private university with Gothic architecture and a perennial powerhouse basketball team. Like that doesn’t seem familiar.

So not being one to miss the literary event of the season or a pop culture aficionado going to pass on a novel about life at Duke, I went to Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy. It was there I discovered the book to be 676 pages long and thus passing my 100-page limit for any book to read.

Plus the book also had really small font and lacked the pictures I fondly remembered from my elementary school days. So I decided to take a pass and do what every wanna-be reader does when they want to learn about books and read about the novel in the New York Times Book Review, which also published a chapter of the novel.

The novel in a nutshell is about a young naïve girl from the country who is an overachiever in high school and gains admittance to one of the most elite universities in America. Once she gets there, her roommate is a sex-crazed Groton grad snob who is obsessed with chasing lacrosse players.

The story goes on to tell about the protagonist’s fall from innocence amid the typical college stereotypes of sorority girls, fraternity boys, nerds and hanger-ons. The book is laced with four letter words and other suggestive stories of what goes on at college.

I remember reading in the News & Observer that some within the administration at Duke were concerned the novel would reflect badly of Duke; that Wolfe would paint it as some modern day Gothic Gomorrah.

The admissions department or the administration should not worry. First off, the activities described in Simmons are not unique to only this school, they go on at all universities across America. If anything, Wolfe appears to embellish on college life by so blatantly sticking to stereotypes and not fully-fleshed characters (the innocent freshman, the ambitious wanna-be Rhodes Scholar, the hot shot basketball player, the jerk fraternity boy).

Readers across the nation should not take Duke or college students as what is portrayed in the book. Though some stereotypes like the ones in Simmons do exist, there is a happy balance between the one extreme Sodom-like portrait of college Wolfe paints and the saintly place of academic at the other end of the spectrum that some see in movies like Dead Poets Society.

In the meantime, I will probably not wish to indulge myself with a fictitious book about college when in the meantime I can live a factual life at college. Where everyone is not a dirty tramp from prep school New England, a work-a-holic obsessed with becoming Phi Beta Kappa, a suburb athlete or in a fraternity.

 

Jonathan Pattillo is a Trinity junior.

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