I Am Charlotte Simmons in my opinion is the best novel ever written about college Life. This book is different from others in that it touches on all of those topics that other authors avoid because it will offend certain groups.
Anyone who has ever attended college knows that you fall into one of three groups: Greek, Athlete, or Unaffiliated. Which group you are in determines the course of your career and your life. It is unavoidable. Many liberal, social justice warrior types dislike this book and criticized it extensively. I think they did so because this book describes who they are. No matter how much they try to reinvent themselves after college, a whiny beta male or an angry feminazi will always be bitter towards fraternity tradition. On the other hand, many unaffiliated students and grads have friends or even marry Greeks or athletes and had a very favorable experience.
The author, Tom Wolfe
is the same man who coined the Wall Street phrase, “Masters of The Universe” in The Bonfire of the Vanities
to describe the college fraternity man who travels to New York and becomes a wealthy Wall Street master of his fate. In my lifetime I have read thousands of books and this one is easily in my Top Ten. Here is why:
First, Tom Wolfe did extensive research studying student behavior at Stanford, The University of Michigan, and UNC Chapel Hill in order to create the perfect elite fictional college overflowing with White Privilege: Dupont University.
The main character is Charlotte Simmons, a National Merit Scholar from a poor North Carolina Mountain town. Her family drops her off at Dupont in a beat up pickup truck with a camper shell. Charlotte is very pretty and smart but is completely unprepared for the social dynamics of an elite campus. Her first encounter is with Beverly, a wealthy debutante whose father is a CEO of a major insurance company.
She then meets Hoyt Thorpe, a tall, cocky, handsome Fratboy from the top tier fraternity on campus, Saint Ray House. Hoyt invites her to her first frat party with the intent of scoring fresh meat. He doesn’t succeed at first, but he does take her virginity at Formal.
JoJo is a White blue-chip basketball player who is NBA bound. He falls for Charlotte. He gets accused of cheating on a term paper by a mousy professor with a double chin and a turtleneck sweater.
Adam is a nerdy, wimpy, campus newspaper reporter and tutor who falls for Charlotte but has zero Alpha Male qualities.
Further along we meet the campus Feminazis, the campus “Faggot Club”, the National Champion Coach, the insecure, whiny professor with man boobs who hates athletes and fraternities, and the Jewish University President who has learned how to act WASP in order to succeed in academia.
The conversation between these opposing social groups is dead on accurate to what you would encounter on a college campus. For example, Hoyt, who does not give a fuck about being politically correct, stages a counter protest with the pledges against the Rainbow club. They chant, “God’s Yuccas” over and over. When said quickly it sounds like “Cock Suckas”.
Tom Wolfe’s attention to detail when describing a pre-game tail gate party, fraternity formal, and the inevitable Frat/Feminazi face off is superb.
Hoyt is the undisputed Alpha Male of the Greek world, but he is by no means wealthy. Hoyt drunkenly stumbles upon a visiting Governor who is getting a blowjob from a sorority girl on campus and has a confrontation with the governor’s bodyguard. In exchange for his silence, Hoyt is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to become a Master of the Universe.
Charlotte is right smack in the middle of all of this social drama. Her biggest challenge is learning how to deal with wealthy sorority girls who are constantly testing her to see if her small town traditional values are legitimate of just an act.
This book at its core is a great example of American Exceptionalism. How else could a dirt poor girl from the sticks of North Carolina rise to the top of the campus social pyramid by sticking to her values, her wit, her looks, and hard work?
Another Review from the Publisher
What New York City finance was to Wolfe in the 1980s and Southern real estate in the ’90s, the college campus is in this sprawling, lurid novel: a flashpoint for cultural standards and the setting for a modern parable. At elite Dupont (a fictional school based on Wolfe’s research at places like Stanford and Michigan), the author unspools a standard college story with a 21st-century twist—jocks, geeks, prudes and partiers are up to their usual exploits, only now with looser sexual mores and with the aid of cell phones. Wolfe begins, as he might say, with a “bango”: two frat boys tangle with the bodyguard of a politician they’ve caught in a sex act. We then race through plots involving students’ candy-colored interactions with each other and inside their own heads: Charlotte, a cipher and prodigy from a conservative Southern family whose initiation into dorm life Wolfe milks to much dramatic advantage; Jojo, a white basketball player struggling with race, academic guilt and job security; Hoyt, a BMOC frat boy with rage issues; Adam, a student reporter cowed by alpha males. As in Wolfe’s other novels, characters typically fall into two categories: superior types felled by their own vanity and underdogs forced to rely on wiles. But what in Bonfire of the Vanities were powerful competing archetypes playing out cultural battles here seem simply thin and binary types. Wolfe’s promising setup never leads to a deeper contemplation of race, sex or general hierarchies. Instead, there is a virtual recitation of facts, albeit colorful ones, with little social insight beyond the broadly obvious. (Athletes getting a free pass? The sheltered receiving rude awakenings?) Boasting casual sex and machismo-fueled violence, the novel seems intent on shocking, but little here will surprise even those well past their term-paper years. Wolfe’s adrenalized prose remains on display—e.g., a basketball game seen from inside a player’s head—and he weaves a story that comes alive with cinematic vividness. But, like a particular kind of survey course, readers are likely to breeze through these pages—yet find themselves with little to show for it.
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