Tom Wolfe is widely acknowledged to be one of the great journalists of his era, but his reputation as a novelist has never been as firm. He took a famous drubbing from his contemporaries John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving, “serious” novelists all, who claimed that Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) and A Man in Full (1998) were not literature but mere entertainment. Wolfe suggested that his eminent colleagues might just have been jealous of his novels’ popularity; none of the literature written by these giants, after all, could boast sales figures anywhere near his own. I suspect that he was right. There is more than one way to write a novel, after all—and more power to those who bend the genre a bit. Besides, Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full were so spectacularly readable that it was hard to care, much, where or whether they fit into the literary canon.

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