Urban Rats in Fashion’s Maze

Review of The Bonfire of the Vanities. Frank Conroy, New York Times, November 1, 1987.

Now comes Tom Wolfe, aging enfant terrible, with his first novel, (his first novel!), six hundred and fifty-nine pages of raw energy about New York City and various of its inhabitants – a big, bitter, funny, craftily plotted book that grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go. As in much of his other work, such as ”The Right Stuff,” Mr. Wolfe’s strategy is to somehow batter the reader into submission, using an incantatory repetition of certain emblematic phrases, (HIS FIRST NOVEL!), detailed description of people’s clothing, hyperbole, interior monologue whenever he feels like it, and various other New Journalism devices he is apparently too fond of to give up. What is amazing is that he gets away with it. I read ”The Bonfire of the Vanities” straight through, in two sessions on two consecutive days, and enjoyed it enormously. It swept me right up. When he writes about process he knows what he is writing about, whether it’s the Wall Street bond market, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, print and television journal-ism, or the working habits of sleazy lawyers -the man knows how to prepare and he knows how to research. As well, he knows how to tell a story, and how to make us laugh, qualities not always present in the work of some of the more polished, more literary or ultimately more ambitious novelists of his generation.

New York Times