I’ve known of Bonfire for a long time, but I finally sat down and read it. 659 pages. It is a LOOONG book. But amazingly, not once is the text ever boring or irrelevant to the storyline–it’s a fast-paced thriller/allegory for our time. Tom Wolfe is a “chronicler,” and he used Bonfire of the Vanities to “chronicle” the heady 1980′s as the rich grew much, much richer, and the underclass grew much, much louder. Any literature fans who enjoy thinking about race and class will love this book.
The story is about a 38-year-old New Yorker named Sherman McCoy, who is living at the top of the world as the top bond trader at a company called Pierce & Pierce. He has a wife and daughter, a lover, and a rich, successful father, but his life is about to get interesting as he finds himself caught up in an unreported accident in the Bronx. What follows is an eruption of all kinds of simmering tensions that bring out the worst of everything related to race and class in our society.
Wolfe has a great ear for regional accents and dialects, as well as an addictive non-sensitivity in discussions of race and culture. He also has a fine mind for detail, juggling perhaps twenty characters or more whose lives are altered by the media fest created by Sherman’s circumstances. This book was written during the ’80′s, before Rodney King, which makes his portrayal of race politics and the law very interesting (or maybe not–I’m sure there were some other similar cases in previous generations).
In any case, I highly recommend this book. Check it out.