A Man in Full Paperback – 28 Oct 1999
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Ever since he published his classic 1972 essay "Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore," Tom Wolfe has made his fictional preferences loud and clear. For New Journalism's poster boy, minimalism is a wash, not to mention a failure of nerve. The real mission of the American writer is to produce fat novels of social observation--the sort of thing Balzac would be dishing up if he had made it into the Viagra era. Wolfe's manifesto would have had a hubristic ring if he hadn't actually delivered the goods in 1987 with The Bonfire of the Vanities. Now, more than a decade later, he's back with a second novel. Has the Man in White lived up to his own mission?
On many counts, the answer would have to be "yes". Like its predecessor, A Man in Full is a big-canvas work, in which a multitude of characters seems to be ascending or (rapidly) descending the greasy pole of social life: "In an era like this one," a character reminds us, "the 20th century's fin de siècle position was everything, and it was the hardest thing to get." Wolfe has changed terrain on us, to be sure. Instead of New York, the focus here is Atlanta, Georgia, where the struggle for turf and power is at least slightly patinated with Deep South gentility. The plot revolves around Charlie Croker, an egomaniacal good ol' boy with a crumbling real-estate empire on his hands. But Wolfe is no less attentive to a pair of supporting players: a downwardly mobile family man, Conrad Hensley, and Roger White II, an African American attorney at a white-shoe firm. What ultimately causes these subplots to converge--and threatens to ignite a racial firestorm in Atlanta--is the alleged rape of a society deb by Georgia Tech American football star Fareek "The Cannon" Fanon.
Of course, a detailed plot summary would be about as long as your average minimalist novel. Suffice it to say that A Man in Full is packed with the sort of splendid set pieces we've come to expect from Wolfe. A quail hunt on Charlie's 29,000-acre plantation, a stuffed-shirt evening at the symphony, a politically loaded press conference--the author assembles these scenes with contagious delight. The book is also very, very funny. The law firms, like upper- crust powerhouse Fogg Nackers Rendering & Lean, are straight out of Dickens, and Wolfe brings even his minor characters, like professional hick Opey McCorkle, to vivid life:
In true Opey McCorkle fashion he had turned up for dinner wearing a plaid shirt, a plaid necktie, red felt suspenders, and a big old leather belt that went around his potbelly like something could hitch up a mule with, but for now he had cut off his usual torrent of orotund rhetoric mixed with Baker Countyisms.Readers in search of a kinder, gentler Wolfe may well be disappointed. Retaining the satirist's (necessary) superiority to his subject, he tends to lose his edge precisely when he's trying to move us. Still, when it comes to maximalist portraiture of the American scene--and to sheer, sentence-by-sentence amusement--1998 looks to be the year of the Wolfe, indeed. --James Marcus, Amazon.com --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
`There are far too many delicious examples of Wolfe's razor sharp wit and stylish writing. So I'll simply say that if you enjoy a slice of American fiction, then this book will not disappoint. Otherwise, I'll eat my hat. A big, bold, brash, brilliant book, beautifully-written. Highly recommended' --thebookbag.co.ukSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
I took it on holiday with me after only recently discovering the genius of Bonfire of the Vanities and I was a bit nervous that this wouldn't pack the same emotional punch as that legendary novel .
But I should have had no fears. In truth, I wouldn't even like to judge/compare it against its famous cousin because both have the same power to grab your attention and keep you reading and both prove Tom Wolfe's inspiring ability to tell a cracking, knowing, multi-faceted story.
What we have here, is 800 pages of quality writing and pure page turning drama. Set in modern day Atlanta it features the unforgettable character of Charlie Croker - an all-conquering property developer who is as rich as most countries and yet, as the novel starts, looks to be facing the possible end of his world of immense luxury and power.
We watch with fascination as we see Croker's desperate battle to salvage the world he created and watch with equal (and perhaps more horrible) fascination as he tries to convince himself he is a better person that most of us suspect he actually is .
Intermingled with this riveting main tale are several superb mini-plots which involve politics, racism, sex, family rivalries and corporate America, plus a seemingly unconnected story about a decent, principled man's descent into prison life (and what an astonishing vision of prison hell Wolfe portrays). The relevance of that storyline only starts to connect with the other main threads in the last few pages but it takes the book to a surprising finale . . .
Overall, I have to say this, like Bonfire, is simply a modern day classic.Read more ›
As a bonus, halfway though the book, the development of one of its characters will introduce you to Stoic philosophy. Most people mistakenly think from our use of the word "stoic", that this must be a miserable and negative affair. Actually, it is a really positive and practical way of thinking which especially suits modern life and those of us who aren't religious. Read the book for enjoyment and then look into Stoicism to make yourself happier.
The sheer scope and range of themes encompassed in 'A Man in full' represents a great achivement. It was always going to be difficult to deal with the difficult issues involved in the south's transition from arable and secondary industry to a place in the new tertiary economy without descending into cliche or sterotyping. However, Wolfe manages to adeptly convey this issue through strong character development, but whilst maintaining a clear sense of reality.
The narrative itself is pacy and gripping. The reader travels through time and place, from Atlanta to Oakland. Wolfe is able, through the book's length, to create detailed studies of several distinct protagonists, each with a paticular moral issue to confront. At the outset, it is not at all clear how these characters mesh together. Gradually, tenuous connections are formed, slithers of information linking apparently polar-opposite individuals. At this basic level, it is then, a great detective story.
The only real fault is the ending, which seems somehow contrived and hurried. After the careful, assiduous development of the characters in the early chapters, it seems they are discarded suddenly and without a true culmination.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not read it yet , much larger than expected. Arrived quickly in vgc. Happy with order.Published 5 months ago by mark evans
Not as gripping or as 'authentic' as 'Bonfire' but nonetheless still a very enjoyable read apart from the occasional pointlessly detailed 'flat spot' and perhaps the questionable... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Mr P
A good book. It follows a few unrelated characters for most of the book and brings them together eventually for a strong finish. Entertaining in parts, interesting in others. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Charlie
Usual poor Wolfe ending, but beautifully written. This time I knew much if the Atlanta landscape he writes against. Great writer, not so great novelist.Published 24 months ago by Aidan Connolly
I don't think even Tom Wolfe would claim to be a "great" novelist with ambitions to rival Henry James or George Eliot, but he does a really good impression of a modern-day... Read morePublished on 2 July 2014 by Walter