Bonfire of the Vanities is not so much one massive pyre but several large and closely situated camp-fire like conflagrations.
Conflagration 1: Master of the Universe, bond baron and archetypal WASP Sherman McCoy, has reached the top of his particular tree and is enjoying the view from on high while ensuring that his chin is always seen at the right angle. It is nice being at the top of things because well, lets face it, no one wants to be at the bottom. The problem with being at the top of the tree is that there is always someone eager to knock you down. In Sherman's case his particular tree is on Wall Street which means that there is a pack of suited and suspendered wolves baying at the bottom of the tree and even if they can't knock Sherman down themselves, well at least they'll be in line for a tasty treat when he eventually falls. And fall Sherman does. Although admittedly he does aid and abet his own downward trajectory by stepping out on the thinnest possible limb and has an ill-concealed affair with a high class floozy who bangs about more than a barn door in a high wind. Add into the mix a hit-and-run after a wrong turning in the Bronx and it is surely game over Sherman.
Conflagration 2: Hot on his heels, in pursuit of justice for the underdog and a quick lay, is Jewish Assistant D.A Larry Kramer, a man whose ego is a lot bigger and brain is sadly a lot smaller than his sternocleidomastoid muscles. But that is not going to deter him from making a big name for himself in the Bronx. And why should he want to make a name for himself? A pay rise so he can continue to provide for his wife and child? Nope he's all about bagging himself a date with the girl with the brown lipstick (it is little details like this that remind you this book was set in the 1980s). Sadly its a case of non cogito ego sum for Mr Kramer.
Conflagration 3: Pitching in at ringside for the Bronx is Reverend Reginald Bacon, black activist, money spinner and all round voice for the people. He wants many things, among them £350,000 in tax free money from the Episcopalian church which he is in no hurry to return and justice for poor young Henry Lamb, the victim of the hit and run (or more accurately, some careless reversing). Bacon is probably the most canny of all the players and while he doesn't get what he wants, he comes of lightly toasted and not totally roasted.
Completing the racially and economically diverse, self-serving quartet of protagonists is
Conflagration 4: Peter Fallow, the seedy Brit hack who is shallower than a paddling pool. Fallow has lost his literary mojo and allows himself to be manipulated through the coverage of the McCoy case as a way of reinvigorating his career. His all time personal highlight is when Arty Ruskin, aged socialite and man about town dies at the dinner table of a high-end eatery while he's in the process of interviewing him. Shallow Fallow refuses to pay the bill, scoops the death story as an exclusive and outs the staff as heartless bastards who stepped over the dead man to carry on serving exclusive yuppie mini food. Fallows end game is a new blazer and a Pulitzer and he gets both so he's probably the real winner.
The principle characters in this book are all men. The women are either Lemon Tarts (slutty blondes), mistresses (normally a Lemon Tart), gold diggers, Social X-rays (ageing, thinning over-toned skeletons in designer garb who were once Lemon Tarts) or the stay at home, expanded-ass, drab house frau. Ladies, in this respect you may not find a lot to love. On the other hand you can watch the gentlemen make fools of themselves which is fairly good value for money.
On the whole I zipped through this book faster than a yuppie in a Porsche 911 and much like being in a Porsche it was quite a nice ride. Slick, shiny and satisfying. The end was a bit of a cop out though and I am not sure that I approve. If I had to summarise this book, I'd say that this is what American Psycho wants to be when it grows up.