Tom Wolfe, the master social novelist of our time, the spot-on chronicler of all things contemporary and cultural, presents a sensational new novel about life, love, and learningor the lack of itamid today's American colleges.
Our story unfolds at fictional Dupont University: those Olympian halls of scholarship housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.
As Charlotte encounters the paragons of Dupont's privileged eliteher roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university's "independent" newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campusshe is seduced by the heady glamour of acceptance, betraying both her values and upbringing before she grasps the power of being differentand the exotic allure of her own innocence.
With his trademark satirical wit and famously sharp eye for telling detail, Wolfe draws on extensive observations at campuses across the country to immortalize the early-21st-century college-going experience.
So: sermon, melodrama, dystopian vision -- I Am Charlotte Simmons partakes of all these, and does so stunningly. But it's still as much polemic as novel. One closes the book feeling soiled by its cloacal vision and emotionally manipulated by its author. Rhetoric -- the art of persuasion -- lies at the heart of all writing, but we dislike feeling too overtly manipulated, and works that blatantly force our emotions along precise paths we dub inartistic, mere propaganda or programmatic writing with a social or political agenda. I Am Charlotte Simmons is such a work. I couldn't stop reading it -- who could? This is Tom Wolfe, after all -- but that didn't prevent me from regarding the author's premise, characters and views as hardly more than an ill-tempered, Mrs. Grundy-like rant against reckless youth and this immoral modern age. Tom Wolfe can make words dance and sing and perform circus tricks, he can make the reader sigh with pleasure before his arias of coloratura description, he can do just about anything in these pages with words, including exaggerate, distort and rant.