At Barnes & Noble Friday I noticed only a single copy of Bonfire of the Vanities on the shelves, and none of Tom Wolfe's other work. Several days later I was still thinking about how far out of favor Tom Wolfe has fallen. At one time he was the most popular novelist (of serious fiction) in the world, was a regular guest on television talk shows, was featured on the cover of Time and Newsweek, and guest-starred on the Simpsons (Lisa marvels that Tom Wolfe uses more exclamation points than anyone). His first two novels were as popular as literary fiction novels could be (although in the late-90s Norman Mailer, John Updike, and John Irving argued there was nothing literary about them). But neither of his next two novels achieved anywhere near the commercial success or the critical acclaim. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux dropped him after losing money with I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Little, Brown lost even more money publishing Back to Blood. I still liked them. Often times over the past few years, and again at Barnes & Noble the other night, I wondered if there would ever be a new Tom Wolfe novel. When asked who my favorite authors are, there are probably at least a dozen authors I would name before remembering, "oh, yeah, I really like Tom Wolfe, too". May he rest in peace.
On Tom Wolfe
Updated: May 6, 2021