Recommended Reading: I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe
Banged my way through Tom Wolfe’s latest doorstop, the 675-page college-based monstrosity that is “I Am Charlotte Simmons.” It’s the story of a young Ca’alina guhl named Charlotte Simmons who attends the tony Ivy League school of Dupont, and finds herself up to her purty little eyeballs in smut and filth and nastiness. Three men vie for her affections–the jock, the nerd, and the frat guy–and alas, they’re all about as well-drawn as that description. Did I like it? Yeah…in pieces. Here’s the thing. Wolfe’s an incredibly observant guy, but there’s still a difference between observation and immersion. It’s the difference between describing what a tangerine tastes like, and actually eating a tangerine. Wolfe gets all the details of college life right from an architectural/sociological/anthropological perspective, but the characters…it’s like hearing sour notes in the symphony. It just mars the entire work. Guys don’t call ladies “dude,” for instance, and real college students don’t talk in the hyper-self-aware, underline-Wolfe’s-thesis kind of language that they do here. I KNOW he’s trying to prove a point, but when that point is that college students like sex, well…it’s like trying to demonstrate that water is, in fact, wet.
Wolfe does have some good points–I truly enjoyed his descriptions not only of the Dupont campus, but of the various backgrounds and motivating desires of many of his characters. And he puts Charlotte and others into situations that are scarily familiar from my own college days–but maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m projecting too much of my college life on this book and making it out to be more than it really is. Charlotte, for one thing, is a neurotic little bitch, and based on the way she acts in the last forty pages of the book–where the action FINALLY gets going–she f’ing deserves all the crap she gets in the first six hundred thirty. And no way ANYBODY is as naive as she is…and why doesn’t she change MORE at the end…and on and on.
Anyway, it’s a fun book–provided you can bring your own college experiences to the table in reading it. Otherwise, it’s a long slog following a heroine who really needs to get smacked in the head with a chicken leg.*
*–Note that I do not condone violence against women in any way. This is a reference to one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life, when a hallmate of mine threw a fried chicken leg across the entire cafeteria and hit another hallmate in the side of the head as he was standing in line. Holy crap, John Elway his own damn self never threw a pass that well.