Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Catching Up

I am Charlotte Simmons was great, but I want a complete explanation from Joe, who said I reminded him of the main character. She did indeed do something foolish--lots.

The book indicts American higher education as being shallow, booze-filled, purposeless, and filled with immorality, detailing the corruption of an intelligent, naive girl.

I certainly experienced some of the things that he shares as "the gospel truth of what occurs in America's colleges;" however, my own college experience was actually filled with reading and learning, as well as boys and drinking. There were no cliff notes in my dorm room!

The story is well-considered and mature. I felt like the characters were well-developed, and they behaved in internally consistent ways. It's a little like a tragedy. Wolfe stretches all that is normally small into bigger and bigger proportions. She experiences a spiritual crisis and is both victim and perpetrator of cultural snobbery, i.e., morality is simply for the little people who fail to understand the complexities that are innate to human nature.

To Joe: I did see myself in the main character, in her naivete and her inability to make good decisions. She likes the guy she shouldn't. She can't like her intellectual equal. She gets hurt, so on and so forth, but the story isn't as clich├ęd as I make it sound. It's fleshy and new, interesting.

In the end, the novel is multi-layered. It's about higher education, but it's also simply about one girl (I don't say woman, because she isn't one) being startled by the absence of morality at her ivy league school. It's about the brilliance of a star growing dim. She cannot achieve without being constantly admired, so she settles for being liked instead of being good. She lacks moral judgement and courage.

Thumbs up from me. If you can stomach the copious amounts of sex, drinking, poor English, disrespect for all things beautiful, and general debauchery, then give it a go.

By the way, right now I don't feel like being all political and editorializing about the current lack of educating that goes on in schools but--I shall just say--it's not a baseless indictment.


Larissa said...

Hi Katherine--Did you ever read Wolfe's essay "Hooking Up"? I'm sure Charlotte Simmons blossomed out of his research for that essay....truly depressing.

Voracious Reader said...

I have not; however, given the essay's title and the content of I Am Charlotte Simmons, I wouldn't be suprised if it did. Although depressing, did you like it? Have you read anything else by Wolfe?

Larissa said...

I read some of the other essays in the book where I found Hooking Up (in fact, I think the name of the book of essays is Hooking Up)...I liked a few of them but eventually got bored. I've heard that one really has to read his novels (Bonfire, the kool-aid one whose real title I forget) to truly appreciate him. I like his clothesm though, and that's where a writer really shows his worth, right?
p.s. Have your read any Martin Amis?

Voracious Reader said...

I believe I would recall if I had a read a novel dubbed "Dead Babies." :) I've never read any Amis.

Does Wolfe remind you of him or vice versa?

Joe said...

Jeez, I'm out of it a while and I almost miss your take on Charlotte Simmons. That would have been quite tragic.

Anyhow, I can't shake you whenever that book comes up. And not because you've made any "bad decisions" (you are engaged to Bill afterall...well ;o) or because you partied too much in college but if you recall, and since I don't own the book I can't refer to it exactly, at the very beginning when Charlotte is making her speech at her high school graduation she has a moment towards the end of it when she looks at her former classmates and just knows, and acknowledges to herself, that she's just greater then them; more ambitious, more intelligent. For all her sweetness she had that cut throat, win at all costs intensity. It was a moment of vicious triumph. Forgive me but you seem to share that fine quality.

As for her "fall", I'd hate to disagree with a conservative dandy like Wolfe, I don't view it the way he did. After her initial mess up with the frat boy she ends up with a basketball player (perhaps becoming a star) who she does inspire with her intelligence, enough to where he wanted to take "real" classes.
Perhaps she gave up somewhat being the scholastic superstar she thought she'd be, but she lived, adjusted to her environment and may just end up being better and more experienced for it.

Now, Martin Amis. One of my favorite writers and heros. Put aside that long list of books from Maryland, and run out immediately and buy either Money, London Fields, Time's Arrow, Einstein's Monsters, The Information, or Yellow Dog. Start with Money and London Fields.
Amis makes Wolfe look like Jackie Collins.