School Days: Tom Wolfe pens an undergraduate novel

Review of I Am Charlotte Simmons. Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard, November 22, 2004.

TOM WOLFE is America’s greatest living novelist. Kind of. Lord knows, he’s got the tools. Is there any author who understands the social meaning of clothes, cars, glasses, words–even the way that people sit and stand–better than Wolfe? Is there any reporter who knows how to make a lightning prose zip in and out of characters’ minds better than he does? Is there anybody, writer or not, more in love with the “wild, bizarre, unpredictable hog-stomping Baroque country” that is the United States?

Not really. With his latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, Wolfe has produced a satisfying if slightly old-fashioned story of a young person’s education and growth–“old-fashioned” referring here only to the kind of book Wolfe has written, since in previous bildungsromane, from The Sorrows of Young Werther all the way down to Stover at Yale, you won’t find either Tom Wolfe’s trademark prose or the details of oral sex, coed toilets, more oral sex, and occasional classwork that he discovered on America’s college campuses. I Am Charlotte Simmons takes the theme that romance died the day easy sex was born, which Wolfe chronicled in his 2000 collection of essays, Hooking Up, and splays it like a honeytrap across a girl’s path as she tries to travel from an evangelical childhood, isolated in a town called Sparta way back up in the North Carolina hill country, to an Ivy League education at the fictional Dupont University…

The Weekly Standard