An Undergrad in Full

Harvey Mansfield, Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2004.


Tom Wolfe was of course known as a social satirist long before he became the novelist we know today. One thinks, for instance, of “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide to America.” It includes a section in which Mr. Wolfe describes being on a panel at Princeton that included Paul Krassner and Allen Ginsberg. They are going on and on about the repression of the times (the mid-1970s), and Mr. Wolfe finds himself blurting out in disbelief: “My God, what are you talking about? We’re in the middle of a… Happiness Explosion!”

I Am Charlotte Simmons (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 676 pages, $28.95) revisits the campus scene three decades later, novelistically, presenting it all through the eyes of an intelligent coed who must contend with the Happiness Explosion itself — and its fallout. Social satire is everywhere evident, but there is a sober theme, too, and it is very much worth paying attention to.

Wall Street Journal