The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, 1987

I told you last time that I had a Bonfire to attend to and here it is….The Bonfire of the Vanities (it was a clever play on words, wasn’t it ?)… This book is in my Top 5 favorite books ever so you better like it too! I like this book so much I actually was convinced it won the Pulitzer Price but it didn’t (it should have but I don’t think the Pulitzer Prize guys really care about what I think… but at least they couldn’t say they didn’t know!)

A few boring but very enlightening facts first.  This novel was Tom Wolfe’s first novel. It was originally published as 27 episodes in Rolling Stone magazine (from July 1984 to August 1985). Tom Wolfe heavily revised it before its publication as a book in 1987. For example, he changed the profession of Sherman McCoy (when you’ll read the book you’ll see that it’s important because McCoy defines himself according to his job and his social position). To write this novel, Wolfe drew his inspiration from real persons (the judge in the Bronx is based on an actually judge from the Bronx, the character of Reverend Bacon was inspired by Reverend Sharpton and Jesse Jackson).

New York City, in the 80’s…

The book opens on a riot against the Mayor of New York City in Harlem. The Mayor can’t make his speech and as to fly the stage.

The first character we encounter is Sherman McCoy, 38, Master of the Universe (as he calls himself). He’s a big shot bonds salesman in Wall Street and the first image we have of him is him running after his dog trying to leash it so he can get out of his 2 millions dollars apartment on Park Avenue to call his mistress. We see him lying to his wife, preferring a call to his mistress than time with his daughter. Not a very flattering image… After he succeeded in getting out to the phone booth (pre-cellphone time) he makes the mistake of calling his own apartment (therefore his wife picks up) and to ask for Maria (the mistress). He realises then that he just jeopardized his marriage but still runs to his mistress’s apartment for some comfort.

The second character we meet is Larry Kramer, 30’s, married, fresh daddy, living in a shoebox (31/2 rooms) in Manhattan. He’s Assistant DA in the 44th precinct in the Bronx, one of the most miserable and violent precinct. He realised as he became a father that his life wasn’t what he had dreamt of when he took Yale’s law courses. He’s also irresistibly attracted by a young woman who is a juror in one of his cases.

At this point, nothing seems to bring those two characters any closer.

Until McCoy takes his Mercedes to the airport to pick up Maria, takes the wrong ramp on the highway, ends up in the Bronx, gets lost, panics, finds a way out of the Bronx, gets out of the car to throw away some rubbish that could damage the car, sees two black men coming towards him, thinks they’re going to attack him, lets Maria drive the car… She, of course, runs over one of the guys. They get out of the Bronx and are back to Manhattan where everything is safe and white. They decide to not report the accident to the police. However, McCoy’s conscience will not leave him at peace. He will have trouble focusing at work.

After this, we meet the Reverend Bacon. His mother, a gospel singer, founded The Gates of the Kingdom Church. Her son took it over and runs it like a business, even if it seems he misplaced 350,000 $ and his interest for Wall Street are far from religious ( we know quickly that he has connections with Pierce & Pierce, the company that employs McCoy). Furthermore, the mother of the kid McCoy and Maria ran over and he sees that accident as a racial problem.

Finally,  we are introduced to Peter Fallow, deadly hungover, English, reporter, on the edge of getting fired…

Well you can see what’s going to happen….

I read that book many times (in french) and it’s my first time in its original language… I’ll let you know if I still like it so much when I’m done!


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