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.Sotoleon
I like this book, though it's really looooong. Some paragraphs go on for a page or two. But once you get into it, the sentences flow and take you to unexpected nuggets of satiric humor and ironic wit. Of course, the dialogue and characterizations are hilarious too.I would not say that one "loves" or "likes" either Charlotte Simmons or the rest of the characters---which are not prerequisites for the overall quality of a novel---but they ring true. As their psycholoy is revealed, their personalities and choices become patently plausible, invevitable really.I'm not sure I "liked" the ending, but again, liking it is neither here nor there in terms of quality. I liked it because it seemed a bit idealized and in someways fulfilling, which is also the reason I didn't like it because thus far, the novel had seemed to follow an inevitable and necessary trajectory so that this "happy ending" of sorts, seems a bit out of place. However, within this ideal situation that the protagonist finds herself in toward the end, reasons for her ultimate choice are hinted at that she herself is barely aware of, and because of this, who she is, what she learns and all that jazz, says a lot about her that clearly demote her from heroine to basically a person one may not like. She has not learned all that much in fact. She is the social animal that is motivated and affected by societal values; she is not above status as defined by not only peers but also by the larger American culture. I wanted Charlotte to "do the right thing," I really did. But given her experiences, the ending makes sense and the ambiguity about who she is and what she's becoming, are really apt, I think. I liked this book for the wry comic turns, the wording and syntax are "ambrosial" (a term used by a character) and the intellect is constantly stimulated. As far as the characters and their ultimate development, it's depressing. And not only because they in effect are "evil" or anything like that, but because they mirror back a litttle (or a lot) of ourselves, especially for those who have travailed the path to Higher Ed. The depression hits because the choices made are done by people like you or I, and their all too human desires, ambitions, and psychology make it hard to judge. You want to identify with a character who is basically good and incapable of corruption because then you can tell yourself you identify with that character. But there are none---Charlotte hardly qualifies as a classic heroine and much less the supporting characters.This is definitely a Naturalistic novel with all of its social animals trapped by forces out of their control. They are all too human and what the novel has to say about our present culture resonates long after you put it down. While reading it, though, the humor and irony and syntactical brilliance are at the fore.Alison
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.Matt
On the topic of hoops fiction (w/ Boice), I decided to bust this dust gathering doorstop out of the bookshelf graveyard.Having read excerpts of this upon publication, I decided to skip two of the three plot lines - those of Charlotte (small-town every girl meets big time state school) and Hoyt (the Reede Seligmann model) for the story of Jojo (white hoops player trying to make good on a squad of aggressive, do-me, Adonis black dudes).I guess not surprisingly Wolfe succeeds greatly in portraying a top-notch D1 hoops program - and the politics that go with it.The only trouble I had with the team he imagines is the clear-cut distinction he makes between the white + black players (almost a sharks v jets rivalry) which I never found to be the case.Casey
I Am Charlotte Simmons was published in 2004, which was the year in which I matriculated at my alma mater. I guess that makes Charlotte and I the same age (except that Charlotte is, obviously, a shadowy, fictional stereotype of someone my age and, thus, not real). Charlotte Simmons is a sheltered, smart girl from a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, who ends up at a top university and is shocked by what she sees there. I was also a sheltered smart girl from a small town in the mountains (of Southern California. In case you were unaware, California is also overrun with idiotic Republican whack job Jesus freaks, at least once you get away from the coast and into the shit-hole provincial towns. They're probably spouting nonsense about the glories of gun-ownership via semi-literate Facebook posts as we speak).All this is to say that Charlotte and I are both girls from small towns who got into prestigious universities, only to find that they didn't fit the Elysian vision of intellectual nirvana we had created for ourselves when we imagined what college would be like. The main difference between us is that, while I was disappointed, I didn't find this particularly surprising.But wait, you may say, it's unfair for you, as a reader, to hate on a book because it doesn't mirror your own experiences! And this is true, to a point, except that Wolfe wrote a book rife with inaccuracies about what life was like for college students in 2004. This paragraph serves as a running inventory of specific things Tom Wolfe got wrong: Charlotte's roommate brings a fax machine with her, and sets it up in her dorm room (??). Wolfe describes cell phones as if they're super fancy gadgets possessed only by the elite. A fraternity brother asks to borrow porn videos from the other brothers, instead of searching for porn on the internet like a normal human being. Wolfe forgets that we're a bit too young for Animal House and Swingers to be the defining films our youth (although he is correct in assuming that we all watched Old School). I'm pretty sure we're not the first generation to forgo last names when introducing ourselves. Rap and reggae were not the only genres people listened to (I mean, isn't Belle and Sebastain one of the prototypical college bands? Also, reggae has always been pretty niche). Britney Spears peaked when Oops…I did it Again came out in 2000. The Stairmaster may have been big in 80's, but young women have been partial to the elliptical since at least the early 2000's. No cool girl would willingly call herself a "douche" (or a trekkie, for that matter). To be fair, Wolfe got a few things right. Often, my classmates would proffer answers in class that were so idiotic, I couldn't help but wonder how they had gotten into the university in the first place. Athletes really are treated like gods, even at schools with fairly middling athletic programs. Also, we played a ton of drinking games.Nevertheless, the millennial cultural narrative doesn't align with Wolfe's story of an edenic fall into a tawdry, quasi-intellectual underbelly populated by hormone-crazed sex drones. In reality, we went to college, like our parents before us, we studied, we graduated, we attempted to obtain gainful employment. Things would be a lot easier if previous generations hadn't managed to screw up both the economy and the environment, but that's a different story. With Charlotte Simmons, it seems to me that Tom is not so much a prescient social commentator as he is a self-indulgent writer who cried wolf.The main problem with I Am Charlotte Simmons is that that Wolfe fails to satirize the (very real) issues of entitlement and lack of racial and economic diversity on prestigious college campuses. Instead, he adds his voice to the cyclical, and ultimately untenable, diatribe against "kids these days," forgetting that we've been there before, and the overhyped prognostications about the end of polite society have consistently proved to be, shockingly, anticlimactic. Two stars: one, because the writing is remarkable (this is Tom Wolfe, after all. Dude knows how to write). Two, because there's a great description of the horror that is the fast-casual dining experience.Kelci Schmidt
I have never loved and hated a book as much as I did this one. As many critics complain, most of the characters and situations are admittedly exaggerated. However, the hyperbolization of the disgusting society of Dupont was not enough to prevent me from drawing parallels to our own non-fictive society. I deeply identified with Charlotte Simmons not as a stock university student, but as an individual who is unable to reconcile the conflicting expectations of adulthood placed upon her by both her family and her peers. Yes, I Am Charlotte Simmons is painfully tedious in its predictability at times. But I was completely won over by both the identifying and disidentifying experiences I had with the characters when I finally stopped whining about the staggering number of pages I had to cover by the next morning and actually started reading. Any text that has the ability to make even one reader stop and contemplate how the world inside the book is projected onto the world beyond it is a text worth something. I'm not going to say that this will be among my top five books of the semester. Nevertheless, I would not trade the experience of struggling through some unsavory memories and painfully recognizing myself in Charlotte's naivete for anything. The connection I saw between myself and Charlotte was the most poignant episode of identification I have ever had. For that reason, more so than because I think the entirety of the work is genius, Tom Wolfe's account of college life at Dupont deserves four stars.Lindsay
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.Nate
** spoiler alert ** So, I spent Thanksgiving laid up with a nasty cold and nothing to do but read and sleep. I decided to give Charlotte Simmons a go as a break from my recent spate of non-fiction.With every passing minute, I find myself disliking this book more and more. In fact, I'm starting to hate it! I can't tell if my ire is directed at Wolfe's ability to cram a 20 page short story into 700, the book's hasty and entirely unsatisfying ending, the shallow/unbelievable characters who elicit no sympathy/empathy/cheering for their victory or defeat, the relentless repetition of certain phrases (i.e., downlighters, ruturtrut and pelvic saddle), his less-than-clever rap lyrics (M.C. Wolfe also failed miserably as a rap lyricist in 'A Man In Full'...give it up, old man!), the constant need to describe the same things over and over (we knew JoJo was 6-10 about 400 pages ago, Tom), the flat, pseudo-clever wordplay, e.g. the Bitsosushi car. It's funny cuz it's Japanese! Hyuk hyuk...I think people think they're getting some really biting satire when Tom Wolfe decides to tackle another decade's zeitgeist. 'Charlotte' isn't satire. It's not even remotely funny and its characters are uninteresting stereotypes completely familiar to anyone who's seen a John Hughes film. Instead, it's a rather creepy look at how an elderly man looks at issues like the sexuality of people 50 years his junior. Seriously, the 50 page lead up to Charlotte's rape/deflowering at the frat formal was gratuitous and rather unsettling - especially so when picturing Wolfe (who dedicated this book to his college-aged daughters, no less!) sitting in his Manhattan apartment in his white suit, late at night, writing about an 18 year old girl losing her virginity...from her point of view. If I wasn't so sick, I'd have taken a long shower after that passage.'Charlotte Simmons' doesn't even fall into the category of social commentary. Wolfe attacks obvious targets with no new insight. Far out! The jock has a brain! The well-intentioned geek has a devious side.It must be said that I did not go to a big college with big time athletics. But I know this much, if ANYONE came up with a chant as dumb as "Go go, Jojo!" at one of our basketball games, they would have certainly been dealt with harshly and expeditiously.Maybe for the '10s, an 80 year old Wolfe can take on the scandalous world of Montessori schools!This book sucked!christa
a 70-something year old man with an amazingly well-researched version of college life. SPOILER ALERT: the ending was stupid.Amy F.
This book kept me turning the pages but ultimately was pretty lame. Also, Tom Wolfe is a perv.Diana
I got so much enjoyment out of this book. If you attempt to read it as an actual piece of literature (or, God forbid, actually purchase it) you will be incredibly insulted and possibly enraged. I wouldn't even deign to call these characters stereotypes because I think that would be giving them more credit than they rightly deserve. And if you read it as the desperate attempt of an aging writer to remain relevant, it might just make you sad (unless you are already enraged/insulted in which case feelings of hatred may render you unable to feel pity). This is the literary equivalent of Crossroads with Britney Spears. Instead, read it to revel in the hilariously awful (oh sorry, Mr. Wolfe, I meant "well-researched") writing. Especially enjoy the abundant use of the phrase "mons pubis." Seriously.Adam
Fuck me. I thought everyone was overreacting and being all tight-assed about this book for some reason, and I know one or two people who like this book, so I thought I'd give it a shot, but holy fuck... This book really is an 80 year old white Southern guy's 700+ page rant about kids these days. Tom Wolfe supposedly did years of research for this book to capture the social reality of college, but I guess he was too busy banging undergrads to really pay attention to what was going on around him because this is completely fucking retarded on every conceivable level. It bears almost no relationship to social reality. Which is a HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM when you make it your stated goal to be our time's Charles Dickens. Look, I get it, he's asking us to step outside the norms to question the norms, but HE GETS THE NORMS WRONG BECAUSE HE'S A FUCKING DULLARD AND APPARENTLY PAID NO ATTENTION TO ANYTHING. So he's asking us, really, either to question NONEXISTENT FUCKING NORMS or to question NORMS WE'VE ALREADY QUESTIONED. if the point of this book is that frat kids suck, dorms are a nightmare, and people do stupid shit, guess what, Tom 'Fuck-You-Look-At-My-Suit' Wolfe? WE FUCKING GET IT. WE DON'T NEED A STUPID FUCKING 700 FUCKING PAGE RANT ABOUT IT, YOU FUCKING IDIOT. YOU. FUCKING. IDIOT. And also, I hate to be one of those guys, but there is NO FUCKING ARTISTRY IN THIS MOTHERFUCKER. I will not accept the dogma of 'show don't tell' and other writing class cliches, but maybe Tom Wolfe should have before writing this piece of fucking shit. Get this, folks: this entire book is Tom Wolfe telling us what's happening and what characters are thinking. The entire book. In other words, he writes LIKE A FUCKING SIX YEAR OLD. FUCK YOU, TOM WOLFE, AND FUCK EVERYONE WHO LIKES THIS BOOK. Lastly, 'fuck patois,' seriously? Fucking seriously? Tom Wolfe, responsible for much excellent journalism, has become a worse novelist than Steph Meyer. Good job. This might be the single worst novel I've ever read.Rayroy
Not bad but Tom Wolf is a bit too descriptive wheather he's talking about a college basketball games, frat praties, being locked out of your dorm becasue your roomate is fucking, we get it Tom Wolf college is about NCAA bids and parties, and not about the humanities, college is for privileged upper middle class young adults and high school athletes, a place they can put off growing up for four years. This is more or less true about college, unless you attend a liberal arts college which is a huge waste of money and even time, because the library is free and you can study anything there, and become an expert on it, why waste your money it's not as if your going to find a job with a liberal arts degree that affords you to pay your student loan debt back and not live at your parents or live like your homeless. Listen just drop out, college is the biggest scam ever conceived, I wish I never would of attended college.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.Jessi
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.