Review of “The Right Stuff”

C.D.B. Bryan, New York Times, September 23, 1979.

“As to just what this ineffable quality was. . .well, it obviously involved bravery. But it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life. . .any fool could do that. . . . No, the idea. . .seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment–and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day. . . . There was a seemingly infinite series of tests. . .a dizzy progression of steps and ledges. . .a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even–ultimately, God willing, one day–that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite who had the capacity to bring tears to men’s eyes, the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself.”

Until now, Tom Wolfe’s biggest writing problem has been to find the proper marriage between his subjects and his witty, hyperbolic, shotgun style. When Wolfe was good–as in “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” (1965) and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” (1968)–he was very, very good. But when he was bad, he was. . .well, accused of attacking “tinsel with an axe” or of using “a two-ton wrecking ball to swat a vestigial winged fly.” Still, Wolfe always took risks, he was never boring, and if at times he seemed almost to parody himself, that was part of the danger inherent in his style…

New York Times