I am Charlotte Simmons

ISBN: 1593977549
ISBN 13: 9781593977542
By: Tom Wolfe

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About this book

Dupont University--the Olympian halls of learning housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition... Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the uppercrust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.As Charlotte encounters Dupont's privileged elite--her roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university's "independent" newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campus--she gains a new, revelatory sense of her own power, that of her difference and of her very innocence, but little does she realize that she will act as a catalyst in all of their lives.

Reader's Thoughts


Yawn or cringe? Eye roll? So imagine your grandpa takes you out to the Dog 'n Suds for a root beer float. He goes on to tell you about what life was like at college - not for him but for you. He sprinkles in terms like "phat" and "shorty" and "rad" and "rutting" throughout his tale. Grandpa has been dipping into the Dictionary of American Youth Slang written by the Youth Minister at his church, who has covered the volume in a plain black cover lest it fall into the hands of the few blessed innocents out there, people like Charlotte Simmons, who would only become distraught at how _dirty_ and crude people are.The point of all of this? Grandpa wants to make sure you know that college is a place of wildly raging hormones, cliques one hoped would have magically disappeared once the threshhold of the high school's doors have been crossed one last time, and LOTS of liquor. You know, in case you missed it on your trip through. He also wants to be sure you know what kind of bullet you dodged at your alma mater and how relieved you should be about it. *ahem*Don't forget to let Grandpa know that he has dribbled ketchup all down his white suit while talking. You don't want him to be embarrassed by himself, now do you?________Disclaimer: The grandpa (Tom Wolfe-like)in this account is fictitious (sorta) and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the author's own grandpa, with the exception of the love of a good A&W root beer float.

Bryce Wilson

Sigh...It's no fun writing a hatchet job, much less a hatchet job on one of your heroes. I read Charlotte Simmons about a year ago and hated it, but decided that the generousity of the Christmas Spirit might make it the perfect time for me to read it. Jesus it was even worse. I love Tom Wolfe, his early journalism is alive as very few works I know. His critism is sharp and cutting and can make a whole school of thought look ridiculous in a clever turn of phrase. His novels are flawed sure but like his journalism the sheer verve and style of his prose carries them across whatever bumps they might have.Until Charlotte Fucking Simmons. The problem is that since Hooking Up Tom Wolfe has found himself fascinated by post modern philosphy. He's no longer concerned with writing about individuals but has instead decided to focus on the misfiring chemicals in their brain in a probablistic equation. He makes Kurt Vonnegut look like Saint Augustine when it comes to subject of free will and it's sucked the life write out of his books. It's heartbreaking.Worse yet is he's lost his ear for society and character. Ms. Simmons who has been raised around meth mouths and shit kickers would not be shocked by an errant Silver Bullet Tall Boy. The book goes from muddled to straight out surreal about midway through where Wolfe suddenly decides to play a two hundred page game of "Whose's going to bust Charlotte Simmon's Cherry." which would be bad enough if Wolfe didn't narrate the proceedings with the smirk of a dirty old uncle. It's sad that Zadie Smith accomplished in a page long vignette in On Beauty what it took Wolfe 700 odd pages to not accomplish.

La Petite Américaine

Sigh.771 pages. Talking about college. How college is shocking for sheltered girls. How college (shocker) isn't really about academia, but sports, beer, sex, and pretty much everything that the university brochures lie about in order to protect their reputations and continue charging $30,000 a year for an "education." This could be written by ANYONE, and in less than HALF the pages.When a book is bad, and too long, there is a certain point in reading the same shit over and over when your mind just screams SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!. This happened to me about half way through when I got sick of even the most random characters who appear only once in the story, having their entire family histories mapped out for the reader since the 1800's. Filler? Some sort of psychological explanation of the character? NO. BORING. EDITOR?? WHERE ARE YOU!? CUT THIS SHIT. Also, we don't need every single regional accent spelled out for us. Charlotte is from the South. We don't need to be reminded after the says "get" that she pronounces it "git." We don't need to be told that a dude from Brooklyn says "what do you want?" and then have it rewritten again after the quote as "whaddaya want?". Fuck me. If that wasn't enough, can we stop this shit of "shooting looks that are as if to say...."? He shot her a look as if to say fuck you, she shot him a look as if to say I hate you, etc. UGH. Granted, this book did get the Bad Sex Award in 2003. But since it doesn't even happen until page 2394875485723847, it's not just BAD, it's boring. How anyone managed to FIND this bad sex without skimming over it or simply falling asleep is completely beyond me. I'm shocked that this didn't get the Bad Book Award of 2003. If you want a good, engaging, and true-to-life story about a fish out of water in her academic environment, read Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep. Use I am Charlotte Simmons only for expensive toilet paper or to stop a bullet. Sucked.


Wow. I believe you can write about being young no matter how old you are. However, I don't know if you can write about being young and going to college in 2004, when you haven't been young (or attended college) since the Eisenhower administration. This absurd novel, which fails as a novel in any convention sense except perhaps self-satire, follows the travails of a beautiful, smart, yet pure-as-the driven-snow hillbilly angel, who emerged out of what sounds like a hobbit hole in Western North Carolina and landed at Duke, I mean, Dupont University, where all the women are rich sorority girls, radicalized lesbian separatists or grotesque underlings who grovel and drool in the dorm hallways at night like some great unwashed mass of medieval lepers. And where all the men are spoiled fratboy rapists, self-deluding, sleazy leftists or wholesome (white!) basketball players who love their mamas. I would like to challenge anyone who has been to college in the past twenty years to find something in "Charlotte Simmons" that is remotely believable. I live about fifteen minutes from Wolfe's model for Dupont University and grew up in Western North Carolina and I can tell you this book might as well be set on Mars, as far as I'm concerned. Reading it requires a suspension of disbelief quite a bit greater than that needed to enjoy "Harry Potter," and I literally threw this book across the room no less than a dozen times whilst reading it. Basically, what I learned is that Tom Wolfe is either actually a sexist, racist, elitist, ignorant, patronizing scumbag or he's so woefully out of touch that he doesn't realize this book makes him seem like all of those things.


a 70-something year old man with an amazingly well-researched version of college life. SPOILER ALERT: the ending was stupid.


In my opinion, Tom Wolfe has always been superior than, say John Updike, in capturing the essence of a particular era and climate in American society. He has done it again with this novel tracing the loss of innocence for the title character. Wolfe had me cringing with the harshness this small town girl finds in university life. The depiction of sex and alchohol situations seemed quite authentic to me. Be warned: Wolfe accomplishes this with frank language. But as always his prose is clear and a marval to read. I also found engaging the subplot of another character who represents the flaws of athletics. The big time pressures of college basketball and the low expectations provided to him in the classroom were fascinating and sad. There was also a subplot having to do with evolution, which didn't interest me nearly as much as the trappings of the scholar girl and jock boy. I admit this novel is a notch below Wolfe's previous novel--A Man in Full, but it is still superior to a lot of other novels. Wolfe is an American icon in American literature with both style and plotting.


Here's the thing. I really like Tom Wolfe's books. Right up until his editor calls him and says, "Tom, I gotta have that final draft by the first of the month," and he writes some crap ending that just ruins the whole thing. Same thing with "A Man in Full". Frustrating.

Katherine Kelly

This book was like a nemesis for me over the last few weeks I've been reading it. So many times I wanted to just put it down and forget I'd ever seen it, but then when I mentioned it to people I got this reaction like "what? Tom Wolfe? He's the best!" and so my curiosity piqued, I'd pick it back up. Now after careful consideration I have crafted the following critique. Note I have only ever attempted one other Tom Wolfe book (Electric Kool-aid Acid Test) and didn't make it all the way through. But here are my thoughts on Charlotte Simmons as it's own unique piece of work:Writing StyleNow people tell me that Tom Wolfe is this great writer. Reading this book though, I do NOT see it. It reads to me like a young author who is so hell-bent on sounding impressive, and hasn't yet learned how to edit. Some of that could be taste, I definitely enjoy a "show me" versus "tell me" style of writing, but I would argue that this critique is objectively true as well. Here are three key things I disliked about the writing:1. Colloquialism: I honestly don't mind colloquial dialogue in a novel. Done well (Twain) it can be a great device to further seed the reader's imagination with who this character is. Done right. To me, that means consistent. When not done consistently, it can read as a mockery (see points below re:racism.) If you're going to say someone says "dat" instead of "that" then it is unlikely that they also say "it does not" in the same sentence. "Dat's not wot we do, it does not work" - see how that actually doesn't sound anything like what a real person with that colloquial language style would say? It's because the first half is one way and the second half forgets about it. I'd also say, if you're going to write colloquially, do it, don't half do it and then have the narrator fix the other half? Like "'That's riioght, we're with them' they-am." Why not just put 'they-am' in the original quote? Why remind me how bad you are at this?2. Big words for the sake of big words: now, I realize that some of the characters in this novel were big word people. That's fine. Put it in their dialogue. We'll get to this more in the narration section, but big words don't fit when you're in the POV of the "dumb jock" but all of a sudden his thoughts read like a poet laureate wrote them?3. Treating me like an idiot: give your readers some kind of dignity. There was one point where two girls ACTUALLY had a conversation about what sarcasm was and what the different levels were and this went on for 3 pages. Give me a break. I didn't need that, the characters doing it (sorority girls) didn't need that - they were born knowing that. What is this? I physically rolled my eyes during that section it was so bad.NarratorThat last point actually rolls into another big gripe - the narrator. Man. It's like this guy has never read a narrated book before. There are two main types of narrators, the omnipotent narrator (knows all, sees all, is just reporting in third person) and the personal narrator (an actual character, reports in first person)Wolfe chose an omnipotent narrator, in that case you can either leave the narrator completely bland, or you have it reflect the personalities of the characters who's POV you're currently representing. In a multifacet book like this you normally go after #2. What did Wolfe do? a mix of both. The narrator never completely reflected the types of thoughts that would mirror the current character (you would be hard pressed to make me believe that any basketball star would spend THAT amount of time thinking about the slave / master symbology of their lives...) but it also never faded into the background. It was RIDICULOUS to the point of being painful.CharactersThis might be because the characters themselves were so painfully lacking in definition. Wolfe sets this book up like he's going to look at archetypes - right? So at first you're willing to give him some slack to set up these absolutely obviously awful caricatures of people. The dumb jock, the dweeb, the frat boy, the prissy girl, the sorority girl, etc. But then they don't come out...right. And not in a "oh they turn out to be more dimensional" way, but in a "they turn out to be a mishmash of his own thoughts apparently" way. I think this has a lot to do with the bleed-over narrator. He gives Adam-esque thoughts to Jojo and Charlotte-esque thoughts to Hoyt. So it just doesn't work.Sexism / Racism / Homophobia and other illsThis was the most painful of all. You get the sense the author is none of the above, but is so intent on proving that, that it doesn't work? You know? The whole thing with Charlotte LITERALLY LOSING HER MIND over a boy. Come on. I know girls can get a little cray cray but that was over the top. And the actual narrator quotes of how she responded so positively "the way girls do" to Adam asserting himself aggressively. What the ... is that?All the white vs. black player stuff, and the gay rights stuff, all missed the mark. Just poorly done.The EndProbably the only interesting part of the whole book is the end when Charlotte questions herself on whether she ever wanted a "life of the mind" or just to be recognized, at any cost, and where her intelligence got her recognized at home, that wasn't it at Dupont so she went another way. THAT was an interesting thought. Start there, with the almost double cross from the main character and move backwards rewriting the WHOLE thing. It's almost like the plot points could still work, with a little toning down in places, but just needs to be rewritten by a more skilled author. I know that's a hard line to take on someone so beloved but this was my honest opinion that I had before I realized (over the course of reading and hearing from other people commenting on what I was reading) that he was loved at all. If there's another book I should try instead I'm open to hearing it, but for now, I'm a big fat no to this book and this author.


I came to I Am Charlotte Simmons with trepidation. I had read the reviews that likened Wolfe to a voyeur and questioned his motivation in spending years "observing" typical college students fifty years his junior. It seemed creepy. But when I saw it in the bargain bin, I couldn't resist, and as it turned out, I couldn't put the thing down. Wolfe is a great writer and storyteller, and although there are some weird things about the book, like his linguistic obsessions over current uses of profanity, he presents a compelling story and a fascinating character in Charlotte. Charlotte, a brilliant student from the impoverished, rural North Carolina, earns a scholarship to the prestigious Dupont University, and dreams of intellectual stimulation unlike she has ever known. Instead, she finds a world of wealth, privilege, and debauchery. Although she wants to play the games of sexual intrigue of her classmates, she has none of the requisite accompanying hardness and cynicism, so her efforts are personally devastating. Wolfe deftly tackles big themes--purity, vanity, greed, social class. He may have gotten some of the details wrong, and if you are currently a college student I'm sure you will find much with which to quarrel, but the bigger story is superb.

Ron Charles

Halfway through Tom Wolfe's enormous new novel about contemporary college life, I finally devised a question to keep my interest piqued: "Is it humanly possible," I wondered, "to write another 100 pages - another 200 pages, another 300 pages - without describing a single surprising event?"It is.With "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Wolfe has ventured onto the university campus and sent back reams of hyperventilating testimony: College students are slovenly and crude. They drink way too much. They listen to obscene music. They engage in casual and exploitative sex. They put their feet on the furniture - even leather sofas and fine woodwork.But wait, there's more: College students would rather socialize than study. It's all right here, spelled out in tones of amazement, like George H.W. Bush telling us about those new scanners at the grocery store.If you haven't seen "Animal House" or anything on the WB, you'll be surprised to learn that collegiate society is divided between "jocks" and "nerds." The jocks are very athletic, but not very smart, whereas the nerds are very smart, but not very athletic.Am I going too fast?To write this novel, Wolfe claims that he "had only to reassemble the material he had accumulated visiting campuses across the country," a technique that may explain the book's superficiality. This isn't the anthropology of the Ordinary - a potentially revelatory approach; it's just a dramatization of clichés.Even the style lacks Wolfe's usual verve. He's particularly interested in the way modern Americans talk, but in his Rip Van Winkle voice, we get endless explanations and reenactments of what he calls the "undergraduate vocabulary," a discovery he highlights in a brief dedication to his children. Most of the dialogue is written in a profane patois that Wolfe spells out as though he's recording the grunts and clicks of a lost dialect from Inner Mongolia. But he has nothing to add to Norman Mailer's far more daring analysis of American profanity some 40 years ago in "Armies of the Night."Even more tedious than the affected slips of Southern and African-American dialects are his needless parenthetical translations: I can't (cain't) stand them('em). And when characters yell at each other, their words are written in caps so that we know THEY'RE SPEAKING VERY LOUDLY.The story follows the rise and fall of Charlotte Simmons, a brilliant country bumpkin from Sparta, N.C., (pop. 900), who wins a scholarship to Dupont University, one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. Charlotte's parents are simple folk, devout Christians, who have instilled in their daughter a deep sense of morality. They don't drink, swear, put on airs, or take no stock in your highfalutin citified ways. Along with a devoted teacher at school, they have instilled in Charlotte a sense of her exceptionalism that inspires the novel's title, which is also a sort of inspirational mantra for the heroine.Charlotte heads off to Dupont University expecting to enter the august halls of academe, but she quickly finds that it's a brothel, seething with vain, vicious girls and crude, drunken boys. Her snobby roommate won't have anything to do with her. The coed bathrooms are an abomination. Athletes on the basketball team don't take their classes seriously. And hunky frat boys pretend to be interested in your mind, but they're interested in only one thing. (I won't spoil it for you.)Poor Charlotte is consumed with loneliness and confusion. Everyone mocks her clothes, her naiveté, her virginity, her tee-totaling. Professors recognize her brilliance, but brilliance doesn't matter in this marketplace of drunken flesh. So, how can she resist when the hottest boy on campus asks her to the Spring Formal? (Wolfe Note: The term "hottest" is not a reference to the temperature of his body, but to the developed musculature of his body, which, along with a number of male bodies in this book, is described with slobbering attention.)Meanwhile, one of the nerds who works for the school paper (where else?) is pursuing a scandal that could rock American politics, but don't worry about that potentially interesting thread; it never leads off campus - or toward anything.The only issue that develops some traction in this novel is race. Wolfe explored that more profoundly in "The Bonfire of Vanities" and "A Man in Full," but his portrayal here of the racial tensions on the college basketball court is engaging. He shows a sport played largely by black men for the entertainment of white fans in an academic setting that contorts its principles to keep the whole industry going.The cynical coach reaps millions; the pasty professor growls about academic standards; the expedient college president maintains an uneasy truce. All these characters play to type, but at the center of this subplot is a white basketball star who feels threatened by the talent and aggression of black players all around him. Why, he wonders, do they have access to a whole range of words and stances that are forbidden to him? What's more, he's starting to feel attracted to a life of the mind that he can just barely imagine. But this minor development is buried in a variety of borrowed plot lines, including a climactic bit of satire about political correctness that might have been sharp 20 years ago.The problem isn't really the inclusion of so many cliché characters; sadly, there are plenty of real students who fall into these categories. What's galling about this novel is its persistent lack of nuance, its reduction of the whole spectrum of people on a college campus to these garish primary colors.Wolfe wrote a much discussed essay for Harper's in 1989, "A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel." Instead of the cerebral games that now pass for fiction, he argued, American novelists should "head out into this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping Baroque country of ours and reclaim it as literary property." This is good advice. When he took it, he hog-stomped out two baroque novels, first about New York and then about Atlanta. But cooped up on campus with "Charlotte Simmons" he's too predictable and too late to reclaim anything of interest.http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1109/p1...


Frickin' fabulous, can't put down, addictive read!


I picked this up at the big garage sale that my work puts on. It caught my eye and I remember being interested in it after reading a review of it when it came out. It's a pretty thick book, over 750 pages, and I didn't plan on reading it for a while. I read the first few chapters when I got home and got very caught up in it. It is one of those books where once you've start reading it, everything else in your life takes a back seat and you can't do anything else but read the book until you're done. Apparently all of Tom Wolfe's books are like that, though I've only read this one. I'll let the New York Times say it better than I can: "Like everything Wolfe writes, 'I Am Charlotte Simmons' grabs your interest at the outset and saps the desire to do anything else until you finish."The book is basically a critique of the current state of higher education and the university lifestyle. The three main characters are students at a Dupont, a fictional prestigious liberal arts school on the east coast and their lives intersect through various plot threads. The title character, Charlotte, is the fish out of water from a small working-class town in West Virginia. She comes to Dupont full of innocence and ideals and the book is propelled by the story of her inevitable fall from grace and eventual redemption. There is one long extended chapter the book about Charlotte going to the big fraternity formal with her new boyfriend and his friends. Wolfe describes what is happening in real time with great detail (both material and emotional), and the result is an incredible and extremely moving piece of writing. If movies that present prom night as an magical evening where everyone's problems are somehow resolved are a zero on the realism scale, Wolfe's description of Charlotte's experience is an easy 10 .One of the things that Wolfe does really well is observe the motivations behind people's words and actions, analyzing people in much the same way that a biologist would study the behavior of animals. To Tom Wolfe, every human interaction is a struggle for dominance, and he makes his case convincingly enough particularly when applied to the seemingly simple but incredibly complex social codes of the fraternities and sororities. Wolfe does stumble occasionally, getting a bit out of his element, particularly when attempting to recreate the dialogue and slang of the black players on the college basketball team. He creates a rapper called Doctor Dis and writes lyrics for his songs in a few cringe-inducing passages. Still, you've got to give an old white guy credit for an attempt. A large part of Wolfe's critique is about class, and the sense of entitlement that well-heeled and well-educated feel. Wolfe lays it on a little too thick in describing Charlotte's humble background, however, and details like Charlotte's family having to use a picnic table inside because they couldn't afford a dining table seemed forced. One final criticism that I'll make is that I though that the end was too neat and sudden. I expected more of a payoff, though I was satisfied enough (if only just to see Charlotte okay again after everything that Wolfe puts her through).This book got a lot of mixed reviews, and some critics really panned it, seeing it as a one of Wolfe's lesser books. I'm not familiar with his other works and with nothing else to compare it to, I was blown away and completely engrossed. I'd strongly recommend it, though only if you can afford to disappear for a week.


I read this book at around the same time as a friend of mine did, when we were both still in college. Accordingly, we found the novel amusing in its over-the-top parody of the college experience, although when I came back to the novel later I was disappointed by the shallowness of its characters, the awkward overabundance of its prose, the jarring implausibility of several elements of the plot, and the inconsistency of those characters that were complex enough even to be inconsistent at all.Another thing that was distracting/annoying about the novel is the sense that the author is leering at his heroine. To an extent, it's in Wolfe's style to dwell on the physiques of his characters --- he rhapsodizes just as much about the well-developed muscles of his athletic male characters as he does about the curves or thinness of his pretty female characters --- but Charlotte seems to get a scrutiny above and beyond that given to any other character, and most of that directed below her waist. It's really quite jarring to read a story that's ostensibly about a girl's efforts to remain intellectually, spiritually and morally pure in an atmosphere of total freedom when the author --- who should, theoretically, be giving us her perspective in the sections of the book that follow her --- is so obsessed with her body. Read this if you're looking for a contemporary version of the florid period bodice-ripper. It's also quite funny in a lot of places, though it varies whether it's Wolfe or the college experience he's caricaturing that makes you laugh.


In preparation for his latest book, "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Tom Wolfe did an incredible amount of research and study into the lives and times of college students at some pretty prestigious universities: Duke, Stanford, the Universities of Michigan and Florida. I won't say, like some have, that Wolfe has his details wrong. Reading this concrete block of a book, one gets the impression that it is 98% detail. Some of it over and over again.This is, in fact, the biggest problem, and I found it equally present in The Bonfire of the Vanities. It's all well and good for Wolfe to do a send-up of a specific milieu (and if anything deserves a good send-up, the slovenly troughs of higher education are a good mark), but in his desperation for authenticity, Wolfe has left nothing to chance. Every nuance of a basketball play is elucidated at length. The weight rooms are expounded upon in over-honeyed prose, as is every single muscle group that's being "pumped." The dynamics of drunkeness, social stratification, sexual politics, and even tailgaters are mulled over ad nauseum. Hell, half a dozen pages alone are devoted to the intricacies of college sarcasm (Sarcs 1 through 3) and swearing (the patois of fornication and defecation).If both books are about vanity as a self-defeating prophecy, they are only so in theory. Wolfe's lavish attention to piddling minutae makes one wonder if he's trying to make a point, or if he's simply writing a reference book, taking a cultural snapshot. Either way, he falls short of the mark.As far as plots go, "I Am Charlotte Simmons" has about the same level of complexity as an early 80's ski-trip movie. We have a wet-behind-the-ears girl from the sticks, a beautiful young thing who is as naive as she is smart. In spite of her rustic roots, she excels and is granted admission into the prestigious Dupont University, where frat boys and jocks are gods, catered to by mealy-mouthed study geeks and sex-crazed bimbos.Of course, her ears don't stay wet for long. They are blown dry by the hot wind from puffed-up professors, smug athletes, and sneaky prep kids, who teach Charlotte the rules of college life, which involves designer jeans, becoming a Sexile, and very, very little studying. There are ups and downs, Charlotte loses sight of What Really Matters, and she succumbs in her own way to the gilded garbage of Being Cool. Various other students (Jojo, the Jock With Lofty Aspirations; Adam, the Clueless Brainiac; Hoyt, the Guy With No Redeeming Characteristics Whatsoever) are treated to their own lessons. Whether any of them learns anything, well, you'll have to read the book.Good luck. Wolfe presents the material like its new, but this is Rewarmed Yesterday. Furthermore, although I'll allow his details are correct, Wolfe writes as if these are the only details there are, the only ones that matter. It's a shame that, given his status and opportunities, Wolfe didn't delve deeper into the subcultures of school. I'm not sure why. Instead of thirty pages devoted to diagnosing the symptoms of depression in college girls, or fifty explaining the delicate mechanism of race relations between white and black basketball players, or countless pages dedicated to examining the bloated egos of the overpriviledged male, Wolfe could've spent his time on something, well, unique, captivating, or worthwhile.Instead, there's "I Am Charlotte Simmons," an overlong story of underfed idealism, and a long, dry-eyed stare at the parts of college life that desperately want to be stared at the most. I'm not saying you won't get anything out of "I Am Charlotte Simmons," but I am saying it's not anything you won't also find in a timelier, perhaps more entertaining capacity in movies like PCU, Better Off Dead, or Girls Gone Wild: College Girls Exposed.


Wolfe could not seem to decide whether he wanted Charlotte Simmons to be a satire or a legitimate zeitgeist piece. Thus, the characters come off as caricatures to ill effect. Wolfe should take a page from Sinclair Lewis, who somehow managed to write biting satire with still-believable protagonists at the helm. Wolfe could have also gone all out and just made this an absurd piece of literature, but he clearly intended to use this book as a revelation on modern college life.In Wolfe's defense:Though I think there are legitimate criticisms of Charlotte Simmons, the most frequent one, the "look at how this prude old guy is so freaked out by young people today" criticism is problematic on several levels. First: it is possible for an author to create an authentic protagonist with whom s/he has little in common. Take Mark Twain's feat of writing from the perspective of a boy in Huck Finn or Sinclair Lewis's believable boob Babbitt in the eponymous book. Wolfe may come from a different generation than his characters, but this does not preclude him from channeling universal emotions through his characters, emotions like self-doubt, alienation, etc.A favorable reviewer on Amazon rightly pointed out that those who criticize Wolfe for not getting this current generation are missing the point. Wolfe is asking the reader to step outside the decadent conventions of this group in order to question why it they are so blindly accepted. To dismiss him because he seems so shocked! by the generation he portrays is to buy into the legitimacy of this (my) generation's norms. Like so many American novels before it, I Am Charlotte Simmons indicts complacent conformity. Perhaps it's easier to recognize these themes in novels where the author is skewering the prudish, straight-laced yesmen rather than the indulgent, counter-traditional ones, but both societies signify rigidity and intolerance towards deviating norms. The pendulum has just shifted in the sense that polite conversation is now quite hospitable to the impolite, but now the diplomat is the odd man out. Being different is hard, whether you're a wandering musician in 1950s America or an intellecutally curious girl from a quiet mountain town in millenial America.My biggest issue: I am most disappointed with how unedited I Am Charlotte Simmons seems at times. Wolfe could have pared this book down a lot. He simply writes too much, sometimes mercilessly belaboring his point. Still, I think the generic criticisms of this book are ignorant of a novel's purpose.

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