FOR years, Tom Wolfe has been lambasting America’s literary establishment for ignoring the best story around—their own country. America positively pullulates with fantastic stories. And yet its writers, ensconced in their Manhattan lofts and writer-in-residence residences, can’t be bothered to look further than the ends of their noses. “At this weak, pale, tabescent moment in the history of American literature,” Mr Wolfe wrote in one of his manifestos on behalf of literary realism, “we need a battalion, a brigade, of Zolas to head out into this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, hog-stomping, Baroque country of ours and reclaim it as literary property.”
Yet the trouble with turning yourself into an American Zola is that you immediately expose yourself to being trumped by reality. The better sort of critics are forever lambasting Mr Wolfe for going over the top—for using cartoon characters to exaggerate the evils of modern society—but the truth is the opposite. Mr Wolfe’s satire pales into insignificance compared with the hog-stomping reality that he tries to capture.
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