The Bonfire of the Vanities The Bonfire of the Vanities question


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Bonfire Of The Vanities: Did you actually feel like you were in Sherman McCoy's Shoes?


I felt like I was in Sherman's shoes, as if I were experiencing what he was, at the same moment. Like my head was in his head, and I was feeling it all. That is how I was in his shoes. The ride through the South Bronx, and when he was in the holding area just after he was arrested. I still remember how icky that all was.


I've read the book twice, but it's been awhile. I think I did empathize with Sherman McCoy from time to time, although I don't think I know anyone like him. What I really appreciate about this book is its ability to make me laugh, guffaw, and snork. I think you know what I mean. Chapter 15, "The Masque of the Red Death," is really special in the way it lovingly describes the buffoonery of the super-entitled. That chapter can be enjoyed on its own and has major snork power.


Yes, I could put myself in his shoes as someone who gets in big trouble with the system through a very minor misstep.

I don't feel Sherman was despicable any more than I am or the next guy may be. Coming from a privileged background is not a crime or a good reason to be embarrassed. His "master of the universe" conceit was childish, sure enough, but he didn't have to be humiliated so cruelly for that. He seems to have overrated himself - his achievement as a bond salesman was largely accidental as the bond business was not that hot when he joined the firm. Overrated but not really - McCoy learns his lesson hard and well and his combative, Scotch-Irish, diehard core emerges towards the end of the book. Turns out he can be a fighter, like the judge that quashed the first indictment against him.


Kyle, BOTV is one of my all-time favourites too. I re-read it once every couple of years. And every time I'm willing Sherman not to make the wrong choices he makes. This is some feat by Wolfe because Sherman is fairly despicable as a character. The other thing that Wolfe pulls a master stroke on is the political backdrop to the justice system. It's also amazing how well the book has stood the test of time. Everyone said how it was a book of the 1980s, yet here we are in 2013 with The Masters of the Universe still alive and well and playing with billions of dollars and people's lives. Time for me to read it again :) BTW, somebody told me it was first published in serialized format. I didn't know that. If so, it must have taken years!


I must have read this book three or four times. I keep coming back because I want to see the high and mighty Sherman reduced to the level of the common folk for a change in a legal system that is, in real life, two systems, one being a slap-on-the-wrist system for the rich and hell to pay for the poor. Another reason is, Bonfire is a change from the shining-white-in-armor heroes in today's books as if we are not all flawed.


I did not like nor sympathize with the main charácter. I read the book back in 1989 and although I give Wolfe his due, I find his attitude void of the generosity of spirit that a Steinbeck or Dickens had. There´s a spirit of elitism to Wolfe, as if he were superior to it all, sitting next to the good Lord and sneering down at us mere mortals. However, having said that, he´s right on the mark, just devoid of human compassion.

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Dana It is a SATIRE!
May 13, 2014 07:46AM · flag

Feliks (last edited Apr 03, 2013 10:04AM ) Jan 02, 2013 10:38AM   0 votes
I roam some of the corridors of NYC power and I can assure you that Wolfe's book hardly scratches the surface of the absurdity that goes on. I agree that the over-arcing premise (that a person of privilege can be *randomly* touched by the long arm of the law) is given plenty of poetic license and dramatic leeway in order to give color and flair to his book (even though, in truth, white-collar bigwig wrongdoers can and do get whacked by New York City's legal system when they slip up). But what I can definitely confirm is that lots of the 'background detail' Wolfe provides--the attitudes and the apathy, the inefficiency in big bureaucracy--are all perfectly valid.


Tom (last edited Dec 23, 2012 05:36AM ) Dec 23, 2012 05:28AM   0 votes
This was a totally bogus story. There was no way in America that one of the wealthy elite would have been caught up in this legal trouble. This is a delusional fantasy without any relation to the reality of America that the white wealthy "masters of the universe" are subjected to the same criminal justice system that disproportionately prosecutes people of color and poor whites. Wolfe fancies himself a modern day Balzac in his social criticism, but Balzac would never have written this ridiculous distortion of truth. There is nothing brilliant about Wolfe's distorted and ignorant view of what is actually going on in this country - unless you want to ignore the truth and continue the self-delusional fantasy that we have justice for all. We don't.

deleted user The wealthy elite sometimes find themselves on the outside looking in too. And when it happens there is no mercy.
Jun 13, 2014 12:57AM

I certainly empathized with Sherman, and I liked this book. It is also interesting to compare "Bonfire of the Vanities" to "A Man In Full" and the way in which Wolfe has the two main characters react to and deal with their situations.


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