Michael Anton, Claremont Review of Books, February 2001.
Tom Wolfe has been on a lonely crusade for more than a decade. His repeated calls for a return to realism in American fiction have largely gone unanswered. Makes you wonder.
Thirteen years ago, after a 25-year career as one of the most prominent, and probably the best non-fiction writer in America, Wolfe published his first big realistic novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. The reviews were mixed (the consensus among the complainers seemed to be: brilliantly plotted, devastatingly accurate, uproariously funny, lacks “heart”), but clearly he had found an audience for realism. Bonfire sold 800,000 copies in hardcover, another two million in paperback, and spent more than a year on the bestseller list.
It took him 11 years to finish his next big realistic novel, A Man in Full, but the payoff was even greater: glowing reviews, the cover of Time, and hardcover sales of 1.4 million. Again, it makes you wonder: with baubles like these out there awaiting the realistic novelist, why hasn’t Wolfe’s crusade attracted more disciples?
Claremont Review of Books