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Wolfe Writes And Atlanta Burns

Eleven years after the publication of Bonfire of the Vanities, author Tom Wolfe is back with a new book, A Man in Full.

What's it about? "I have a hard time summarizing it myself," says the 67-year-old author. "But it's a novel [set] at the very end of the 20th century. I'm trying to show the sort of collision of old ideas and new ones through the lives of rather rambunctious people."

These include Charlie Crocker, a 60-year-old real estate developer who, according to Wolfe, "thinks of himself as 'all-man'" and a 22-year-old fellow who works in the freezer unit of a food warehouse that Charlie owns.

Much of the story is set in Atlanta, a city which has come to "intrigue" Wolfe with its mix of plantations and urban landscapes, and of whites and blacks.

"I was fascinated by the politics of Atlanta, a city that, at its core, has 400,000 people, of whom 77 percent are black," Wolfe says. "Around it are more than three million people in the [predominantly white] suburbs. And they make all their money in Atlanta in the great towers built by developers.

"When I realized how this mixed," he concludes, "I knew it would be dynamite."

CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen pointed out that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "wasn't thrilled with the book" and asked Wolfe if he thinks Atlantans will be angry about A Man in Full.

(John Huey, managing editor of Fortune magazine and an Atlanta native, reviewed A Man in Full for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While praising Wolfe's descriptive prose and exhaustive research, Huey has harsh words for the book's plot, characters, and dialogue, and advises Atlantans: "Save yourself $28.95 and reread Gone With the Wind."

And Michael Skube, a columnist for the Atlanta paper, calls the nattily-dressed author "Little Lord Fauntleroy with a switchblade knife" and criticizes what he calls Wolfe's "gaudy exhibitionism.")

Wolfe's reaction to such criticism: "I think there are those, and some at The Atlantic Journal-Constitution, who have been working overtime to get the fires stoked. But I'll find out. I'm going to Atlanta next week… I'm going to find out face to face what people call me."

The author says that, in his prodigious novels, he sets out to "explore America" and that many modern authors are too introspective. Wolfe admires the novels of Charles Dickens, who gleaned much of his material as a reporter.

"This is a bizarre country. It's wild," he says. "This should be recorded in some kind of dramatic form. And I take it upon myself to do as much of that as I can."

McEwen also asked the author of The Right Stuff (1983) about Sen. John Glenn's recent return to space.

"In the beginning, when the first seven American astronauts were chosen, space flights were looked upon a a battle with the Soviets," says Wolfe. "John Glenn became a national hero because he was willing to go into orbit, to take on the Soviets in the 'high ground,' space, as it was called… John Glenn was seen as our protector. Today, the space program…is seen as a kind of interesting scientific workout for NASA.

"We should be on Mars by now."

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