The Great American Road Trip
Destination: Atlanta, Georgia
Book: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe (1998)
Tom Wolfe is not only a writer, but he plays one on T.V. Dressed in a white linen suit and white homburg hat, he chats amiably–those perfect southern manners on display, of course. And I will happily read anything he has written. So although he actually hails from Richmond Virignia, I’ve picked his book A Man in Full, which is set in Atlanta, Georgia for our road trip travel plans to that state.
Wolfe took his newspaper reporter’s eye for the telling detail and moved on to book-length discourses on icons of American culture–Manhattan lefty socialites and American racism (Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers), Hippies (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) astronauts (The Right Stuff), among the titles that added to the American vocabulary. And his work set a standard for a new school of non-fiction: The New Journalism. Who can hear “the right stuff” without thinking of the astronaut culture? And Radical Chic became the perfect put down for the faux-sincere backer of causes. He moved into fiction with a novel that pinned to the wall the finance industry, Bonfire of the Vanities, written LO-O-O-NG before our present banking crisis. Then he took on his own region– the modern South and its class and race friction hidden under a veneer of politeness and its focus on doing bid-ness– A Man in Full.
Tom Wolfe lays his characters out on the table and slices them open with a sharp wit–laying bare every foible and pretense. And in A Man in Full, he not only paints sharp portraits of a vast array of human characters, but also slices and dices the city of Atlanta, symbol of the modern South.
The book is long and the plot is complex, but nothing Wolfe every writes is ponderous. His individual sentences and phrases are delights. It takes him a long time to shape a book, and if you pause to ponder as you read the perfect word choices you will understand why. He is in his eighties now and some doubt that he has enough time to finish a final work because of his meticulous approach–not because of any lack of energy.
If you need proof of his still lively, sharp mind, read this article printed about a year ago in the New York Times about NASA.
If you have never read Tom Wolfe, take a look at one of his books. If you want to know how a born and bred southerner sees the new South, and you’re ready to visit that most un-typical part of Georgia on your own road trip, read his novel set in Atlanta, A Man in Full. It’s a peach. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Charlie Rose interviews Tom Wolfe and you can see a copy on the Tom Wolfe website . Charlie Rose talks a bit too much in this half-hour show, but it gives you a good view of Tom Wolfe, nevertheless.
The portrait of Tom Wolfe, is filched from his publisher’s web site. The gorgeous picture of Atlanta at night above is from Flickr compliments of Creative Commons license. Please click on the picture to see more of that photographer’s work. Good stuff!
Don’t forget to pick up your road trip music over at Music Road. Kerry wrote last week about music for the two states, South Carolina and Georgia.
To begin at the beginning, you can go back to Blue Highways, or to start the trip south, see Virginia. And please, don’t miss any of the Road Trip,or the other travels at A Traveler’s Library. Subscribe! you now have three ways to follow along–
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Are you already a Tom Wolfe fan? Tell me what you’ve read, and how you like the “New Journalism” style. I’d love to have a conversation about one of my favorite authors. Alabama is coming up–suggestions??