This is one of the more interesting books I’ve read. It’s packed full of detail, a journalistic and realistic novel that takes you through all the repercussions of an incident in vast detail. Wolfe is a wonderfully astute observer of New York in the 1980s. He places you there, providing great detail of the culture and the types of characters you might find there. This is not a page-turner. In fact, there are very few twists and turns, and the ending, while fitting, was quite flat. It was true to the realistic account of this episode in main character Sherman McCoys’s life. This was actually quite refreshing – a book without the excess of the 80s (the setting of the book) or the current day. Sure, Wolfe documents much excess, and he is not exactly economical in his prose. But he just details, with some very memorable observations, the New York scene through this sequence of events. If you want to know all the steps that follow from a wrong decision, in great detail, and all the characters you might encounter along the way, then this is the book for you. But if you are after something more lurid, you will be disappointed.
I really liked this book. Every time I picked it up, I enjoyed something in it. But I didn’t love it, and I put it down for about three weeks because it does not demand that you read it. But it really is a pleasure to read, if you have the patience. Wolfe just gets so much right, and makes very few, if any, mistakes. There are no odd detours or flourishes, and the observations he makes are on point. I loved his portrayal of McCoy – he made a little of fun of him at times, contrasting McCoy’s view of himself (‘The Master of the Universe’) with the reality that he is just like everyone else. Wolfe takes him down a notch. But he also has sympathy. He is very fair to his characters, and realistic in his depictions, although he laces his scenes with humour and the absurd. It is a wonderful approach.
A nice accompaniment to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, The Bonfire of the Vanities is very much of its time and place. It transports you back. I’m curious to read his later work for his account of more recent society. His memorable depictions of what he finds in each milieu have become part of the lexicon. So, more Wolfe for me, but maybe a break first – something a little more bracing in the meantime.