Tom Wolfe, R.I.P.

When Tom Wolfe’s debut novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, was published in November 1987, the book was greeted with effusive praise and became a best-seller, although some literati seemed offended by Wolfe’s highly descriptive prose, the hyperbole, exuberant punctuation, and occasional sound effects.  After film rights were sold for $750,000 that winter to Peter Guber and Jon Peters, who had a production deal with Warner Bros., Wolfe made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the making of the movie itself.  “I think it’s bad manners in the Southern sense to be sharp and critical of it,” he said of the movie interest.  “I did cash the check.”  He pointed out that,

The way I constructed the book, almost every chapter was meant to be a vignette of something else in New York as well as something that might advance the story, and to me one was as important as the other. . . . Not that I gave very much thought to how the movie could be made, but I never could see how you could do that.

The movie, which appeared in 1990, was an expensive flop, while, today, The Bonfire of the Vanities is accepted as a major novel, vintage Tom Wolfe in its richly detailed depiction of a late-1980’s New York City culture of snobbery, ego, and vanity in which bad taste and a craving for status...

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