Monday, September 05, 2005

The Best For First

A year and a half ago I read The Right Stuff and loved it: here was vivid, clever and insightful writing. What more could you want? So I acquired most of the rest of the ouevre of Tom Wolfe hoping for a replication of that experience. Having just completed Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers I've read all but three books he's published (Mauve Gloves, Clutter and Vine, In Our Time, and The Purple Decade). But, but, while rest of his stuff is fun to read (even I Am Charlotte Simmons), it somehow lacks that extra spark that made "The Right Stuff" so fantastic.

In "The Right Stuff" Wolfe actually tries to understand a part of society and why it functions that way, whereas everywhere else he uses his immense knowledge simply to poke fun. Its good social satire, so far as social satire goes, but finally unsatisfying because all he tries to understand are people's pretentions and self-presentation.

The surface is fun and can be funny. But you are always left wanting more: at some point it ceases to be entertaining to discover that in many walks of life people are obsessed with trying to maintain an appropriate facade (a point Erving Goffman made in a less entertaining manner). "The Right Stuff" went beyond that to try to explain how and why a given facade came to be considered appropriate. Too bad I saved the best for first.

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