A Snubbed Tom Wolfe Parries With 2 Men of Letters

Martin Arnold, New York Times, December 10, 1998.

From where did all this fury come? Could it simply be that two of the most celebrated literary icons of our time, Norman Mailer and John Updike, are jealous of Tom Wolfe? In their reviews, both authors struggled mightily and not with tender heart to establish that Mr. Wolfe’s new best-selling novel, ”A Man in Full,” was guaranteed not to be literature. Entertainment, sometimes. Journalism, probably. Art, certainly not.

Which made many in book publishing ask who made Mr. Mailer and Mr. Updike, granting their years of fruitful toil, the adjudicators of what constitutes a literary work. Usually there is some ebullience in literary feuds, in observing authors flaying each other with gusto, but this one seems pretty dour, with a certain weediness about it, and the only one enjoying himself appears to be Mr. Wolfe, who is counting up the sales. Mr. Mailer and Mr. Updike apparently feel that they have been pushed to defend some novelist autarchy.

”I think you have to take Mailer and Updike as a matched set, and ask why are those old bones rising up to try and shoot down this book,” Mr. Wolfe said in an interview. ”It’s because their own works of the past few years have been sinking without a bubble.” Now this is Mr. Wolfe’s line, that there’s envy in the land. Well, there’s no need to recall the many successes of Mr. Mailer and Mr. Updike over the years, and there are others, besides the two writers, who don’t think ”A Man in Full” is good. The reviews have ranged from laudatory to mixed to terrible.

New York Times