Chronicler of our era
Tom Wolfe died Monday, having written thousands of pages of crackling literary commentary on this strange, infuriating, enthralling place we call modern America. We’re New Yorkers, and we’re members of the press, so we include here a brief excerpt from “Bonfire of the Vanities,” in which the shallow and cowardly mayor, speaking to a raucous crowd, realizes he’s been set up by the city’s most powerful black preacher, an amoral opportunist:
“He peers through the scalding glare of the television lights. He keeps squinting. He’s aware of a great mass of silhouettes out in front of him. The crowd swells up. The ceiling presses down. It’s covered in beige tiles. The tiles have curly incisions all over them. They’re crumbling around the edges. Asbestos! He knows it when he sees it! The faces they’re waiting for the beano, for the rock fight. Bloody noses! — that’s the idea. The next instant means everything. He can handle it! He can handle hecklers! Only five-seven, but he’s even better at it than Koch used to be! He’s the mayor of the greatest city on earth — New York! Him!”
Hizzoner fails, miserably, to command the crowd. The narrative continues:
“A wave of the purest self-pity rolls over the Mayor. Out of the corner of his eye he can see the television crews squirming around in the haze of light. Their cameras are coming out of their heads like horns. They’re swiveling around this way and that. They’re eating it up! They’re here for the brawl! They wouldn’t lift a finger. They’re cowards! Parasites! The lice of public life!”
Wolfe’s words, not ours.