I am Charlotte Simmons

ISBN: 0312424442
ISBN 13: 9780312424442
By: Tom Wolfe

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Reader's Thoughts

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.

Amy F.

This book kept me turning the pages but ultimately was pretty lame. Also, Tom Wolfe is a perv.

Elaine

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.

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.

Rob

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.

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.

Ellenjsmellen

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

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.

Andrea

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.

Chad Wemyss

"I am Tom Wolfe... " and therefore I can write whatever I want. And people will still buy my over-long, thinly-developed, poorly-constructed tirade against 'kids these days.'It's called a stereotype, Tom. You should probably avoid making all your characters painfully simple cardboard cutouts of actual people. And I'm pretty sure I've seen all of these before, in EVERY movie and book about "college" ever produced.To inventory: - The main protagonist, the archetypical smart girl who's better looking than she realizes. - The big dumb jock who's smarter than he realizes - The beautiful-but-evil roommate - The nerdy reporter for the school paper - The obnoxious, privileged frat boy - And a whole host of minor supporting characters... as the secretary from Ferris Bueller put it, a cast of "sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, and d!ckheads." Along with rednecks, the new england rich, and a smattering of other cellophane-thin stereotypes.This book isn't quite satire, it isn't quite commentary, isn't remotely insightful, but it is awfully long. It has that going for it.

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.

christa

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

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.

Kristin Clifford

** spoiler alert ** Well ... I had never read any Tom Wolfe before. I had read and heard several things about this book - namely, how Wolfe researched by exploring college culture, attending parties and interviewing students and such. The resulting fiction is a paltry attempt at immersion journalism at best. I know, I know, Wolfe wasn't trying to tell a true story (and naturally, no one compares to my journalistic hero Leon Dash) but instead write a fictional piece exploring the seamier side of collegiate life at an upper-crust University. At least, I think that's what he was trying to do. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the book. In fact, it was very readable and pretty entertaining. I think it just fell far short of what Mr. Wolfe feels (or hopes) he accomplished. You can just tell by reading the book that it was written by someone who ALMOST but doesn't quite, get it. It has that outsider's perspective, but not in the loner, misunderstood sense. I'm not sure exactly how to put this but I hope this makes it clear what I am trying to say. It feels like the book was written by someone who has no idea what they are talking about, yet feels they have completely mastered the topic. Wolfe overuses tools like slang, pop culture references, etc. to try and make it seem like he really knows what he's talking about. It's like that nerdy kid who desperately tries to seem cool by doing things like liking really obscure music, or quoting the Simpson's ad nauseum, or constantly talking about their drinking habits and crazy drunken adventures. You knew that kid in college. We all did.Anyhow, the protagonist, the titular Charlotte Simmons, is an outsider, so Wolfe's strategy does work to an extent. But she is a strangely implausible character at times, as are some of the others. And not implausible in the way that all people are, more like implausible as in some of the characters do things that are directly contradictory to their intial presentation (I am thinking of Laurie, Charlotte's best friend, in particular). Charlotte leads a life of near-constant mortification. Her embarassment, at least as written, is so intense at all times that it must be simply exhausting. It left me wondering how, in this perpetually self-conscious state, she managed to both be a genius, and have an extremely high level of confidence in both her intellect and physical appearance. This self-confidence seemed at complete odds with her extreme, even desperate desire to fit in. It was strange also, that she felt superior to everyone yet wanted to be their leader. I suppose this is not unusual, in fact it's almost cliched. But it's still strange, to me at least. The characters are poorly developed. There are actually too many characters in my opinion. They all revolve around each other and interact, but some in only the most fleeting of ways. And (THIS MIGHT RUIN IT IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT) some who are introduced as being very influential in Charlotte's life are referenced only briefly again, and conflicts are never resolved.In short, the characters, even Charlotte, are shallow. We are given the gist of what it is that Charlotte desires, and even a glimpse into her inner turmoil, but it is still unclear to me WHY she wants the things she wants, and why she seems to have two personalities - one which wants to be intellectual, one which wants to be "cool". She grows angry whenever she is recognized as one or the other, though - when around cool people she wants them to know how smart she is and vice-versa. She doesn't seem to find a way to let these two aspects of herself co-exist. Which I suppose is very typical of a college freshman. However, the resolution of the book was unsatisfying. Basically what I came away with - Smart people do stupid things, too. Duh. Overall, it was intriguing and kept me entertained on the plane

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.

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