The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe

Really fun read. There’s a lot of good stuff about New York esp. about the Bronx, about Fifth Avenue, and about Harlem. Also fun to read how New Yorkers talk: “Whaddaya whaddaya?” and “Howawya?”

Nice to know that acceptable WASP professions include trading bonds, founding a white-shoe law firm, and writing for the Times. Good also to know that good WASP names include Farnsworth, Fiske, Phipps, Thornton, Frost, and Overton.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for any of the characters until the middle of the book, when we realize that really everyone is conspiring against the protagonist. He is Sherman McCoy, the head bond trader at the fictional Pierce & Pierce.

Bonfire is a page-turner with literary effects. Sherman is persecuted by a journalist and a district attorney who wouldn’t at all want real investigative work to spoil a good story. These two almost literally feed on him: at one point McCoy’s body is quite diminished as the other two swell and become stronger.

Another good part: Sherman never finds the comfort he seeks in confession when he finally decides to break the news of his arrest to family and friends. Not one person thinks of Sherman, only how an embarrassment would impact themselves.

Here are some excerpts:

On Fridays the Taliaferro School discharged its students at 12:30 P.M. This was solely because so many of the girls came from families with weekend places in the country who wanted to get out of the city by 2:00 P.M.

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