Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

The Bonfire of the Vanities is a great book! A Man in Full is still my favorite Tom Wolfe novel, but this is a good one too. Wolfe is amazingly observant and descriptive.

At some point in one of his books I would like him to describe an admirable white-collar person. So far I haven't seen one -- they're always compromising, weak-willed ninnies until they lose their money.

"The recollection brought a smile to Fallow's lips, the sort of wry smile that says that this is a sad story and yet one has to admit it's funny. ... The Dead Mouse and Highridge tried to choke back their laughter, since after all it was a lot of unfortunate poor people they were talking about."

"The housing project had been designed during the Green Grass era of slum eradication. The idea had been to build apartment towers upon a grassy landscape where the young might gambol and the old might sit beneath shade trees, along sinuous footpaths. In fact, the gamboling youth broke off, cut down, or uprooted the shade-tree seedlings during the first month, and any old person fool enough to sit along the sinuous footpaths was in for the same treatment."

"The women came in two varieties. First, there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (women "of a certain age"), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirs on the bias were too extreme. They were the social X rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman's own brain. Second, there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, and fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventry), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X ray had). What was entirely missing from chez Bavardage was that manner of woman who is neither very young nor very old, who has laid in a lining of subcutaneous fat, who glows with plumpness and a rosy face that speaks, without a word, of home and hearth and hot food ready at six and stories read aloud at night and conversations while seated on the edge of the bed, just before the Sandman comes. In short, no one ever invited... Mother."

"And in that moment Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later. For the first time he realized that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps, love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life. And now that boy, that good actor, had grown old and fragile and tired, wearier than ever at the thought of trying to hoist the Protector's armor back onto his shoulders again, now, so far down the line."


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