If a cat can look at a king, then surely an unknown writer, such as myself, who is published by a press so small one needs a microscope to find it, may occasionally sneer at what passes for authors who write great novels. I refer specifically to Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe, libidinous writers who objectify women and spend much of their literary lines drooling over the cracks – cleavage or butt – of a woman’s anatomy along with that hollowed territory too often described as “a triangle patch of pubic hair.”
Forced to read the work of these men in college, I gave them up at the first possible moment and never returned… until recently. The November issue of Vanity Fair contained an excerpt from a new work by the 81-year-old Wolfe, Back to Blood. Thinking I should keep an open mind or that Wolfe may have grown wiser since the ’60s, I read the sample instead of flipping to the page that sported a profile of Stephen Colbert. Certainly, the topic of Wolfe’s new book was one that interested me: the cut throat behavior of the wealthy as they throw their money around at prestigious art fairs. I’d read a non-fiction book on the subject a year ago and found it fascinating. Why not see what Wolfe could do with the same subject under the trappings of fiction? Unfortunately, I wasn’t far into my reading when one of those cracks in his writing appeared:
She just wished she had worn a minidress, too, to show off her bare legs…as opposed to these slim white pants that mainly showed off the deep cleft of her perfect little bottom. (Excerpt from Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe, Vanity Fair, November 2012 p. 166.)
As for the style, the structure approached gibberish:
…fuck off? You fuck off, you fat…
AhhgghHAHAHHHHHock hockhockhockedyou see that fat man trying to slip between those two people? Got stuck between themmmmaaagghHAHHHH gicj gicj gicj! Could’t get his big belly throughahhHock hock hock!” (Ibid pg. 167)
As might be expected, James Wolcott, cultural critic for Vanity Fair, offers an apology for Wolfe in a sidebar to the excerpt. The author’s run-ons and tracking shot narrative, he explains, are akin to the works of Zola and Balzac and give the narrative its energy — as if energy were a substitute for communication. (Ibid, pg. 179) As to that, all I know is that in copying this “stuff,” for my blog, my spell check went bezerk, not unlike Wolfe’s writing. Had this sample come to me from a student in my Freshman 101 composition class, I would have advised him or her to major in origami. It too is full of holes.
(Picture of Thomas Wolfe courtesy of eng10181.wordpress.com)