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American graffiti

Tom Wolfe's latest novel, "A Man in Full," has earned him the title of America's new Dickens. But his realism is nothing like Dickens's. Wolfe's characters are grotesquely typical and monstrously melodramatic. We should not confuse Wolfe's cartoonish realism with life or literature

By James Wood   February 1999

Tom Wolfe’s novels are placards of simplicity. His characters are capable of experiencing only one feeling at a time. They are advertisements for the self: Greed! Fear! Hate! Love! Misery! The people who phosphoresce thus are nothing like real people. Instead, they are big, vivid blots of typology: The Overweaning Property Developer! His Divorced First Wife! His Sexy Young Trophy Wife! The Well-Dressed Black Lawyer Who Speaks Too White! The Oafish Football Player! They race through huge, twisted plots, their adventures hammered out in a banging and brassy prose. Wolfe’s writing follows American life like a shoulder to the country’s…

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