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He wasn't aging; he was growing up. Bonfire's pyrotechnic satire of 1980s New York wasn't just Wolfe's best book, it was the best bestselling fiction debut of the decade, a miraculously realistic study of an unbelievably status-mad society, from the fiery combatants of the South Bronx to the bubbling scum at the top of Wall Street. Sherman McCoy, a farcically arrogant investment banker (dubbed a "Master of the Universe," Wolfe's brilliant metaphorical co-opting of a then-important toy for boys), hits a black guy in the Bronx with his Mercedes and runs--right into a nightmare peopled by vicious mistresses, thin wives like "social x-rays," slime-bag politicos, tabloid hacks, and Dantesque denizens of the "justice" system. If the Coen and Marx brothers together dramatized The Great Gatsby, Wolfe's Bonfire would probably be funnier. Many think his second novel, A Man in Full, is deeper, but Bonfire will never die down.
You might find it interesting to compare the film The Bonfire of the Vanities, a fascinating calamity perpetrated by the geniuses Brian De Palma and Tom Hanks, with The Right Stuff, one of the very best films of the '80s. --Tim Appelo
686 pages, Kindle Edition
First published November 1, 1987
The appalling figures came popping into his brain. Last year his income had been $980,000. But he had to pay out $21,000 a month for the $1.8 million loan he had taken out to buy the apartment. What was $21,000 a month to someone making a million a year? That was the way he had thought of it at the time – and in fact, it was merely a crushing, grinding burden - that was all! It came to $252,000 a year, none of it deductible, because it was a personal loan, not a mortgage…So, considering the taxes, it required $420,000 in income to pay the $252,000. Of the $560,000 remaining of his income last year, $44,000 was required for the apartment’s monthly maintenance fees; $116,000 for the house on Old Drover’s Mooring Lane in Southampton ($84,000 for mortgage payment and interest, $18,000 for heat, utilities, insurance, and repairs, $6,000 for lawn and hedge cutting, $8,000 for taxes). Entertaining at home and in restaurants had come to $37,000…The Taliaferro School, including the bus service, cost $9,400 for the year. The tab for furniture and clothes had come to about $65,000; and there was little hope of reducing that, since Judy was, after all, a decorator and had to keep things up to par. The servants…came to $62,000 a year. That left only $226,000, or $18,850 a month, for additional taxes and this and that, including insurance payments (nearly a thousand a month, if averaged out), garage rent for two cars ($840 a month), household food ($1,500 a month), club dues (about $250 a month) – the abysmal truth was that he spent more than $980,000 last year.
[I]n that moment Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later. For the first time he realized that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps, love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life. And now that boy, that good actor, had grown old and fragile and tired, wearier than ever at the thought of trying to hoist the Protector’s armor back onto his shoulders again, now, so far down the line.
"Like more than one Englishman in New York, he looked upon Americans as hopeless children whom Providence had perversely provided with this great swollen fat fowl of a continent. Any way one chose to relieve them of their riches, short of violence, was sporting, if not morally justifiable, since they would only squander it in some tasteless and useless fashion, in any event."Last, Larry Kramer, a Jewish assistant DA assigned to the Bronx, is being pushed by the media-hogging DA to make an arrest that will make a splash for his upcoming re-election campaign.. Larry constantly questions his career path in public service and seeks recognition for something other than the obscure, low-publicity cases he prosecutes every day in the Bronx.
And in that moment, Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later. For the first time he realized that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best as he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps, love, adopted a role called being a father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life. And now that boy, that good actor, had grown old and fragile and tired, wearier than ever at the thought of trying to hoist the Protector's armor back onto his shoulders again, now, so far down the line.
Kuya: (while holding an old paint brush) Meron akong airplane! Wooooooo.... tsoooooong.....weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (and the paint brush flies)
Me (while holding a broken flashlight) Ako naman ay barko! Tsug tsug tsug tsug wuuuuuuuuuuuu pot pot! (and the flashlight sails)
Kuya:: (the paint brush goes near my flashlight) Bobombahin daw ng airplane ko ang barko mo para lumubog! Swisssssssh.... Ratatatatat..... KABOOOM! (and he kicks my flashlight).
Me: (i run to the kitchen and shout) Nanay, o si Kuya ......!
In 1982, there was black guy Willie Turks, who was murdered in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn and in 1986, another black guy Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens. Both guys were killed by whites. In another episode was a reversal of role and it that became a subject of much media attention, white guy Bernhard Goetz became something of a folk-hero in the city for shooting a group of black men who tried to rob him in the subway.
It felt all the more ironic given the book’s title. The first vanities bonfire happened in Florence, Italy in 1497 when supporters of friar Girolamo Savonarola publicly burned what they considered vain objects – books, art, music, anything deemed immoral. It’s easy to see Wolfe playing the part of Savonarola, eradicating all evidence of his early attempts at fiction.