A Man in Full

Eye peeps through hole in dust jacket
Charlie behind things in Atlanta.

After a slow start, Tom Wolfe builds A Man in Full into a riveting, multifaceted story that shatters into shards in the final chapter.

The central character is Charlie Crocker, a good ol’ boy who use his football prowess to get access to Atlanta’s wealthy elite where by salesmanship—which Charlie believes is synonymous with manhood—he built a commercial empire.

As the story opens, Charlie is in his sixties and in deep financial trouble.

Another story-line is about Conrad Hensley, an employee in one of Charlie’s warehouses, who is trying to raise himself by his bootstraps.

A third story-line is about Atlanta’s black mayor’s attempt to prevent racial incidents over rumors—no charges have been filed—that a black, Georgia Tech football player raped the daughter one of the city’s leading white establishment figures.

Wolfe is funny in an ugly, wise-cracking way. He ridicules Charlie for his lack of education and sophistication and mocks Charlie’s ex-wife for being hurt by people who cut her because she’s been replaced.

There’s no middle class in Wolfe’s picture. He contrasts blotches of poverty, prisons, and hopelessness with shimmering wealth, self-indulgence, and conspicuous consumption.

The world of A Man in Full is interesting to read but unpleasant to contemplate.

Book is bound so Charlie Crocker is behind everything
Front of dust jacket has a hole through which Charlie Crocker on the novel’s cover looks out.
A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ©1998. 742 p.
1998 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Winter of Our Discontent is a joy

As The Winter of Our Discontent opens, Ethan Allen Hawley is clerking for an Italian immigrant who bought Hawley’s grocery after Ethan’s father went broke and lost it. Ethan has a wife and two kids to support; some extra cash wouldn’t come amiss.

Sweet and funny, educated and articulate, Ethan escapes from the routine of his life in words. Ethan orates to the canned goods, engages in one-sided conversations with the banker’s red setter, and declaims to his children on patriotic ideals.

Joey Morphy inadvertently shows Ethan how to rob the bank next door to the grocery, and Ethan’s fertile imagination takes over from there.

Others in New Baytown are also looking for an easy buck. Some of the town leaders are trying to get hold of the only local site suitable for an airport. A grocery supplier offers Ethan kickbacks to secure orders. Ethan’s son is hoping to win an essay contest.

The Winter of Our Discontent holds pleasing and plausible surprises on every page. John Steinbeck merges a clever plot with characters that are more believable than most people I know. Beneath the novel’s superficial froth lie truths as durable as the sea that licks the New England coast.

The Winter of Our Discontent
By John Steinbeck
Viking, 1961
309 pages
1961 bestseller # 10
My Grade: A

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni