Sunday, March 2, 2014

American Novelist Tom Wolfe Turns 83

The first wave of Gonzos - a term coined around 1970 by Hunter S. Thompson to describe a wing of New Journalism advocates - is all but gone these days. Tom Wolfe, who turns 83 today, remains it's most famous surviving member in the U.S. It's been a long way from The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby to tackling the Great American Novel for Wolfe. He's always been quite happy interpreting the American experience as an outsider looking into other worlds and he's certainly surpassed Thompson and others in his school with a matured Gonzo style. The stories seem written as much for entertainment as for traditional reportorial honesty and often involve not only the writer's observation but also his participation. And there are those long daydream passages of vivid description that end with a quick snap back to reality.  In addition, Wolfe's style has always retained muted elements of the "wildness" that made such journalism amazingly popular into the 1990s.

In 2012 Wolfe took on the immigration theme and the Cuban-Americans community dominating the scene in Miami. Back to Blood hit the market with high expectations but performed poorly. This article reprinted from New York Magazine appeared with the release of the novel and remains a pleasing blend of biography and book. 

So what does the future hold for a successful writer whose life has entered its descending arc? Most of us would like to think there is more compelling reading to come from such a wise observer.  Let's hope so, but better we should leave prediction to heaven and immerse ourselves in the great wealth of observation of the American experience Tom Wolfe assembled for us. 

His non-fiction is a fine place to start:

The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965)
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)
The Pump House Gang (1968)
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970)
The New Journalism (1974) edited with E.W. Johnson
The Painted Word (1975)
Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (1976)
The Right Stuff (1979)
In Our Time (1980)
From Bauhaus to Our House (1981)
The Purple Decades (1982)
Hooking Up (2000)

Credits: Photo: New York Magazine

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