• The Bonfire of the Vanities

    Music & Books  

    I'm reading avidly these days. After several zealous endorsements from friends, I plunged into Tom Wolfe's 1980s New York.  Wolfe's critically acclaimed The Bonfire of the Vanities ruthlessly exposes the superficiality of 1980s culture through the protagonist of Park Avenue resident and bond trader, Sherman McCoy. In a biting satiric style, he spares no one from the top to the bottom of society. He directs his most serious criticism, however, to the upper class, with their extravagant dinner parties, 6-block hired-car rides which cost $250, and thousand-dollar flower arrangements. Wolfe's version of New York in The Bonfire of the Vanities displays the worst of human nature, and very little of the good. Though most of the characters of all races and classes are shown to be selfish and morally flawed, the wealthy WASP world of Sherman McCoy is shown to be the worst bastion of, prejudice, elitism, and self-delusion.

    Although Bonfire was adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis in 1990, it was a flop. Stick to the book (as usual). At 690 pages, its a thick, but intriguing, commentary on a 1980s New York. In 2007, on the book's 20th anniversary of publication, The New York Times published a retrospective on how the city had changed since Wolfe's novel, titled "No Longer the City of 'Bonfire' in Flames."

    Jan 24, 2012 | Permalink (12) Total Comments

    preppychic left a comment on 4/15/2012 at 10:45 AM:

    my bible - since 10 years…


    Genio left a comment on 2/16/2012 at 4:44 PM:

    I have read the book and wtcehad the movie, and I have to say that this review is very fair. Tom Wolfe packs a page-y novel with a detailed story, including many attitudes and thoughts of the characters, which simply cannot be transferred to film. To make matters worse, the direction of the film overall is lacking refinement as mentioned above.Perhaps the source of some of my biggest disappointment was the casting. The film sacrifices some of the physical qualities of the aristocratic Sherman McCoy character by casting Hanks for the role. Sherman McCoy is supposed to have a very strong chin, which is supposed to be telling of his aristocratic background and wealth. Tom Hanks lacks this attribute along with some of the others which build McCoy into a much harder character to like in the book than in the movie. While these are superficial subtleties, Hanks lacking broad shoulders and a strong chin, I would say they add to an overall disappointment with catsing Hanks as McCoy. If you still do not see my point consider this: Sherman McCoy and Forrest Gump played by the same actor. Hanks is versatile, and incapable of being type-casted, but he does not have the phyiscal stature which says: I am a powerful, wealthy person.Do not even get me started with Bruce Willis’s casting for the role of Peter Fallow. As an actor I like Willis, but he does not play a drunk British news reporter well. Lacks an accent, and he has some un-refined acting qualities which make it difficult for him to play a serious character. Great job in Fifth Element though.In fact I think, rather than making a good film which is serious in subject but made lighter with some humorous characters, the overall feeling of the film is less serious because it is so unrefined in the ways mentioned by the above critic above.


    MS left a comment on 2/7/2012 at 3:30 PM:

    Very meta, FEC. Surprised you enjoyed the book, given that it is, in many ways, a vicious satiric criticism of the very lifestyle (NYC - Hamptons - Palm Beach) you espouse to aspire to.


    Aggie K left a comment on 2/7/2012 at 10:49 AM:

    I love A Man in Full, too, although it reminded of Houston in the 80’s.


    Andy M. left a comment on 2/6/2012 at 8:41 AM:

    Fantastic book.  As an Atlanta resident, I’m equally fascinated by A Man in Full, his take on Atlanta in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Although the main characters take a turn for the weird in the end, it’s a great read and a well-written commentary of a city with its own peculiar history.


    MGM left a comment on 2/5/2012 at 12:17 PM:

    Great post.  Tom Wolfe is great on cultural satire, but let me point out that this sort of thing *really* began with Thorstein Veblen.  If you enjoyed this book, then I would strongly urge you to read Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.  His insights are so revelatory it’s scary.  His basic point is that wealth is valuable ONLY because it arouses envy in those around us.  And that is the only reason it is pursued and enjoyed.

    And then, on the other hand, for those looking for a sort of “subtle” satire on the same theme, the “plays” of Oscar Wilde are all really good.  God, I lived on those plays for many years.  I tried so hard to cultivate the art of speaking just the way Mr. Wilde wrote.


    Laguna Beach Fogey left a comment on 2/5/2012 at 1:11 AM:

    “Excesses” weren’t limited to the 1980s, that much-maligned decade.


    M Arthur left a comment on 2/3/2012 at 10:01 PM:

    NYC superficiality?  Ya think it’s limited to the 80’s?


    Paul left a comment on 2/3/2012 at 4:03 PM:

    A post about Tom Wolf and you don’t even mention the white suit?


    Zach left a comment on 2/3/2012 at 3:28 PM:

    You should give some of Mr. Wolfe’s other novels a read.  “I Am Charlotte Simmons” has the same style of social commentary but in collegiate setting.  Prep introspection?

    Interesting style for a prep-school/Washington and Lee graduate from Richmond, VA.


    Raynette left a comment on 2/3/2012 at 2:23 PM:

    Read this back in high school.  Not sure I “got it” back then and have been thinking of re-reading it lately.  Thanks for the reminder to put it in the queue for when I’m ready for a long read!


    Clyde Shuman left a comment on 2/3/2012 at 1:17 PM:

    The first time you read it, especially if the NYC depicted is foreign to you, something exotic, you’ll be mesmerized.  The second time you read it, you’ll be blue-penciling all those parts which would have been served by a waste can.  The single best line is up front, in the prologue: “You think the future doesn’t know how to cross a bridge?”


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