grab your discmans and run for the hills! 
tom wolfe is mad!
very, very mad!

 
Hooking Up
Tom Wolfe
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 293 pages)
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hooking up cover
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Tom Wolfe is outraged! Outraged and hurt! The Man in the Ice Cream Suit is - let’s start manhandling our metaphors here - losing his cool! Righteous dismay! He’s sat seething behind his stockade of impeccably-tailored white flannel but no more! Petty, pusillanimous postmodernists! Bloodless academics and the leering champions of defeatism sucking hollow the soul of American triumph! Quake and scatter! Tom Wolfe has a new book, Hooking Up, out now! O crabbed and crapulous creatures of the lacklustre literary high ground! Shiver in your bolt-holes! Norman Mailer! John Updike! John Irving! Tom Wolfe has a new book out, on Farrar, Straus & Giroux! You literary pygmies masticating the sacred word in your fusty cubicles at the venerable New Yorker! Consider yourself J’Accused!!

I could go on like this, but it gets tiresome pretty quickly, and even Tom Wolfe knows this. Hooking Up opens up with an incredulous monologue on the state of America today, from Wolfe’s perspective, and the themes he throws up, prime among which is a diatribe against the soul-sapping diminishment of meaning he pins squarely on Derrida, Foucault and their fashionable academic followers, will show up later in the book. 

It’s a fantastic polemic, all the more enjoyable for anyone edging out of the youth demographic and finding themselves occasionally dismayed by the spectacle of youth culture. Examine that last sentence carefully, for it contains a revelation, though not a major one for those who have followed Mr. Wolfe’s career for the past two decades: Tom Wolfe, iconoclast and essayist of the evolving American Century, has firmly taken up a position on the rear guard.

Perhaps this would explain why the least interesting part of the book is the one that’s been getting the most press (excerpted in a recent National Post, for instance) - his attack on the attack made on his last novel, A Man in Full, by Mailer, Updike and Irving. It’s clearly the beating heart of the book, the nuclear core padded and packed with a few good magazine pieces, an entertaining bit of novella, and an ancient, quaint attack on The New Yorker of three-and-a-half decades past. 

Wolfe might have drawn a bit more blood if his dissection of each writer’s style went a bit more deeply - as it is, his description of Irving’s limpid perturbations of Northeastern despair in A Widow For One Year is priceless; incredulous and howling, full of partisan contempt. In the end, though, the essay reads like a metaphorical contretemps after a few too many Glenmorangies in the oak bar of the Arts and Letters Club.

©2000, 2002 Rick McGinnis
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