Winter's hold on me finally wanes. I feel ready to rejoin the world of thought and action. It's not that I haven't been reading for the last two months....I've done a lot of reading. But I just finished a book that makes me want to write again. O Frabjous Day.
I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. Wolfe is wordy. Sometimes I revel in his words and his wordplay, and sometimes I just want to say move it along, Tom. He's wordy, sometimes pretentiously wordy, and that's interesting given that he's so good at slaying pretentious dragons in his writing.
Potential readers should know that this book is loaded with F-words and S-words and AH-words, and MF-words. It's loaded with sex and drinking, and worst of all, it's loaded with college students who, like, can't speak real English, in spite of,like, really high SAT scores. This is not a flaw....it's part of the essential plot of the book to regale the reader with devastatingly accurate portrayals of how the elite youth of our society, the cream of our crop, really speak and think and act. Scary stuff! Consider yourself warned.
What I want to know is how Mr. Wolfe is so adept at getting inside the female mind? More than once, I squirmed in embarassed memory of a few times in my life when I felt just like Charlotte, or worse, acted just like Charlotte. How did any of us survive adolescence anyway? And how many of us, well along in middle age, still experience those pangs of early insecurities....the need to belong, to feel accepted, to fit in with the crowd? Get those hands up....yes, we've mostly evolved to a state of confidence in our opinions and our place in the world. But still....walking into a room full of strangers is daunting at any age.
Briefly, Charlotte Simmons is a freshman at fictional Dupont University, but given the recent scandals involving lacrosse players at Duke, I saw immediate parallels. Charlotte is a tiny town country girl, who was the star at her high school. At Dupont however, she's just a lowly loser freshman whose brilliant mind and firm morals make her an outcast. The twists and turns of her academic year, the ups and downs....Wolfe writes a fascinating story and by the middle of the book, I could not put it down. Which is a problem, given the 676 pages of the book. I even gave up knitting and sleeping for this book.
This is NOT an adolescent coming-of-age tale, although in some ways it is. It IS a commentary, sometimes humorous and sometimes sad, about the society we live in. Wolfe raises wonderful questions about the reverence we give athletes (Why?) and about the drinking habits of college students (Why?) and about how nice girls turn into sluts (Why?). He even makes a good stab at answering his own questions.
But how did he come to know the dynamics of the female mind so well? I am impressed.
Here's a list of my other reads with just a terse comment to say yay or nay:
Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes. Convoluted.
The Devil and the White City, Eric Larsen. I'm not a non-fiction fan. But this was quite interesting. Makes me determined to get to the next world's fair in Shanghai in 2010.
In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant. I recommend every Dunant book written.
Gentlemen and Players by Joann Harris. Riveting with a twist at the end that I didn't see coming.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie. So-so.
Distant Shores by Kristen Hannah. So-so.