Paul's Reviews > The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
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Oct 04, 11

Read in April, 2011

This story is gripping, a quintessential page-turner, with multiple story lines weaving together quite well. Once you start, you'll hurry towards the finish. That said, it's quite long, and while it never feels torpid, it does feel as though the story could have been told in less time, in fewer pages.

Further, nearly 25 years later, the work feels more than a bit dated. It is deeply rooted in the ostentatious 80s, the decade of "Me". As such, it provides a useful chronicle, but it also becomes hard to relate to. As well, New York City has changed greatly since then, with crime and squalor greatly diminished.

Nearly all the characters in the story are appalling, with Wolfe skewering everyone and everything - the preening of socialites, the accents of everyone, and so much more. The reader is forced to wonder where his sympathies should lie, and the only reasonable answer seems to be "with the truth". Unfortunately, this leads to a depressing, albeit perhaps realistic conclusion.

Multiple reviews in the book itself refer to the comedy of the book, but I found Wolfe's writing to be more bitter than satirical. He seems to hate these characters, and everything they stand for. He burns their world down around them, which could be enjoyable, but the characters don't really seem to deserve this.

---Spoilers below---

I found the ending very unsatisfying. Initially, after having his case dismissed (a victory!), McCoy seems to suffer some sort of mental break. He's given up his very being, and seems to want the mob to kill him.

If the reader roots for the truth to come out, he will be disappointed. It does come out, in a disheartening fashion (perjury to counter perjury), but even then, it helps little. Again, perhaps this is realistic, but it's also depressing.

In the epilogue, things get worse. McCoy is mired in legal problems, despite his desire to generally do the right thing, and Killian is no longer representing him. Maria has gotten off scot-free despite her crime and subsequent perjury. Weiss is still in power, having been re-elected, and Bacon seems stronger than ever. Judge Kovitsky, who did the right thing, has lost his job. The loathsome Fallow has won a Pulitzer, and Lamb has finally succumbed to his injuries. At best, one can take solace in the fall of the increasingly-crooked ADA Larry Kramer.
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