Of the several Wolfe books I’ve read, two in particular stand out. The Electric Kool Acid Test (1968) came as shock to the system, mine, and almost everyone else’s. The stylistic juxtaposition of stream of (chemically altered) consciousness and journalism was a mind-bending experience. (I admit too that, a few years later, I wasn’t altogether happy that my son found and read it.) Twenty years later, Wolfe gave us the Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) which came out just as capitalist greed was being pronounced good for us by our political rulers in the US and UK, and by our real masters and manipulators in the financial world. Bonfire may have taken its title from Savonarola and Florence 500 years earlier but the book reads as a contemporary roman à clef with its principal characters being a WASP, a Jew, a Brit and a Black. Wolfe originally wrote the book as a Charles Dickens style serial which helped to add chapter-by-chapter tension to the tale. Set in New York, its themes are race, class, politics and greed. An ear for demotic talk and an eye for how people walk, such as the ‘pimp roll’ that was fashionable among young black street-wise men, helps to imprint the story on our minds and give it much apparent verisimilitude. A further 25 years on and, like many from the America’s chilly North-East, the story moves south to Florida and is set in present-day Miami. Wolfe’s third remarkable book is Back to Blood. [London: Jonathan Cape, 2012]
Tom Wolfe, BACK TO BLOOD [London: Jonathan Cape, 2012] Buy this now and look for my review in ten days time.