Tom Wolfe still had three weaknesses as a novelist

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Tom Wolfe succeeded in cutting a figure in American life comparable to another white-suited, big-spending writer, Mark Twain, according to Steve Sailer, but he still had three weaknesses as a novelist:

The first was that in his pursuit of machismo he’d lost the ability to write interesting female characters.

The second flaw was that his famously flashy prose style wasn’t as sentence for sentence well-crafted as that of his rival’s like Updike. Wolfe came up with brilliant phrases, some of which have entered the language, but he embedded them in fairly functional prose hepped up with Zap! Pow! typography. For his second novel, A Man in Full, he cranked up his prose style to impressive levels. But with about 100 pages left in the book, you can suddenly see where he suffered major open-heart surgery and the subsequent manic-depressive mood swings that are a common side effect.

The third was one he never overcame: although Wolfe picked fights with high brow prestige novelists like John Updike, his biggest weakness was at the lower brow blocking and tackling basic of coming up with an ending for his plots.


  1. Faze says:

    Steve is absolutely right about the ending to the otherwise magnificent “A Man in Full”. The rest of the book goes where no novelist or journalist had gone before (or since), but the ending — where the protagonist becomes a kind of evangelist for Epictitus and stoic philosophy — was not true to life, or the character, who, in a more plausible ending, would have become a straightforward scoundrel “Christian” evangelist to save his hide.

  2. Sam J. says:

    I’ve read all of his books and really like him but he does have some unevenness in them. I’m actually cringing as I write this because he’s so good it seems shameful to complain at all.

    “…hepped up with Zap! Pow!…”

    Good description.

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