Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I wasn't sure I could handle 738 pages of college debauchery, and this book's length is really my only complaint.  The title refers to the mantra of a freshman from the mountains of North Carolina, attending elite (fictitious) DuPont University in Pennsylvania on scholarship.  Culture shock is immediate in her coed dorm, where she finds that the reassurances from the resident assistant about sex and drinking are all bunk.  For the first half of her first semester, Charlotte sticks to her principles, burying herself in her studies, and yet wallowing in her loneliness.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, Charlotte is pretty. Her smarts, looks, and frankness attract an assortment of guys, including a basketball player (JoJo), a Rhodes Scholar wannabe (Adam), and a handsome frat boy (Hoyt).  Adam is linked to her other two suitors in that Adam is JoJo's tutor, and Adam, as a writer for the school newspaper, wants to print a story about Hoyt, in which Hoyt and a friend stumbled upon the California governor in a compromising situation.  To me, the book is about seduction and how these four characters veer from the paths to their goals.  JoJo is seduced (well, sort of) by the adulation of groupies after he has become more academically-oriented, and he loses his edge on the court when he feels threatened by a new recruit.  Adam is seduced by JoJo, who, before JoJo earned the nickname Socrates, compelled Adam to write a massive research paper for him overnight.  More obviously, Adam is seduced by Professor Quat, but I don't want to give too much away with regard to that relationship.  Hoyt, who has visions of becoming an investment banker, is starting to sweat the slippage of his grades, due to over-indulging in partying.  And Charlotte, literally seduced by Hoyt, loses her self-respect and is ultimately seduced by notoriety, after initially being mortified and depressed by it.  Charlotte's experiences churned up both thrilling and supremely embarrassing memories of my college days.  Once again, Tom Wolfe does not disappoint.  He may have exaggerated some aspects of campus life but probably not that much.  It is indeed a time for experimentation and recovering from one's mistakes, and I would venture to say that no one comes away unscathed.

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