Book #14

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

Dupont University - the Olympian halls of learning housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition- Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from Sparta, North Carolina, who has come here on a full scholarship.
But Charlotte soon learns that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time. As Charlotte encounters Dupont's elite - her roommate, Beverly, a fleshy, privileged Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Gellin, one of the Millennium Mutants who run the university's 'independent' newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavour on campus - she gains a new, revelatory sense of her own power, that of her difference and of her very innocence. But little does she realize that she will act as a catalyst in all of their lives.
I have never come away from a book feeling the way I do at the moment. I really enjoyed reading this, and I was never loathe to pick it up. It was easy to get into, and the plot carried me along nicely. However, I have finished the last page and I am sitting wondering what really was the point in all that? Almost seven hundred pages, and I have taken nothing from it. I feel as though I have wasted good reading time, which is strange because I enjoyed it for the duration. I really can't fathom my feelings.

Here is a novel which reads like a really bad (and I will use an Americanism to emphasise my point) movie. We are given our gorgeous, smart, naive girl embarking on a new adventure. She vows never to have her morals compromised, but soon bows to peer pressure, gets drunk and loses her virginity to an absolute dick of a frat boy. A desperate geek then falls in love with her, unrequitedly. Add a beefy jock into the equation, one who comes to embrace the power of the intellect, but only with our Charlotte's help, and we've got ourselves a teen movie. It reeked of She's All That

Wolfe was in his seventies when this novel was published, and that impressed me when considering the subject matter. I am sure it could've been better written, and the characters could've been fleshed out to be a bit more believable, rather than static stereotypes, but for an old guy he has certainly captured the fear, the bitchiness, and the sheer devastation that comes with being an eighteen year old girl with the world on her shoulders (i.e. omg every1 on campus knows u lost it 2 hoyt thorpe). My main gripe is that it was almost seven hundred pages long - a behemoth of a book - and half of it was barely necessary. I am quite sure this could've been written using half the words, and with double the impact. I am a bit disappointed with how I feel now, considering I have put in quite a shift to finish the book in the first place.

I like that Wolfe is trying to critique the American university lifestyle. I liked his descriptions of the power struggles between groups. I liked his analysis of social codes in these types of environments. There is just something missing; he stumbles in places, misusing slang words, or misunderstanding certain areas of the lifestyle, and seems incredibly like Charlotte Simmons herself - a fish out of water.

The grand finale just embarrassed me. It seemed very rushed, very 'oh look, everything's okay now and Charlotte is one of the cool kids!' I expected a bit more than this, something a bit less predictable and more moralistic.

I didn't mean to completely trash this, and at the same time I didn’t mean to write such a mediocre review; this tends to happen with me, though, mediocre reviews for mediocre novels. I did enjoy it, but only in a casual way. I like novels that make me think in different ways, and impact on my life a little bit. This did neither, although I won't deny it certainly entertained me for a while. Please avoid.