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Durham's Dystopia

Last year, amid some campus (and national) controversy surrounding the release of Tom Wolfe's latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons I had the opportunity to write a review of the book for The Cornell Daily Sun.

For those of you who don’t know the book, it was a grandiose attempt to depict student life at an elite institution of higher education. It was ripe with the sordid underbelly of academia – petty campus politics, sexual assault, cocaine sniffing fraternity brothers, watered-down classes for student-athletes, etc. etc. And of course, like his other books, beneath Wolfe’s tantalizing writing and gripping plot line was a current that attempted to address such things as class, race, and privilege. I thought it was a good, if not great, book.

But I found it to be one of the hardest pieces to write during my tenure at the Sun, simply because there was so much to talk about, and I was ultimately highly unsatisfied with the result. For the 700 words ultimately printed, I had written up to 4000 words on the book that went unpublished. And my editor cut out a whole tangential point of mine: that higher education has always been the hallmark of American class/race/geographic assimilation and social mobility, and Wolfe's book correctly identified the growing rift in the social fabric that produces such a mechanism.

Anyways, my inadequacies aside, after reading I Am Charlotte Simmons, it is interesting to follow the growing controversy surrounding the allegations that three white Duke lacrosse players raped a black ‘exotic dancer’ last month.

So I cannot help but to bring myself back to a question that I asked my readers in my review: Isn't Wolfe’s book supposed to be satire, and not real life?

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 11, 2006 (#)

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