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Tom Wolfe: The state of fiction is pathetic

September 12, 2008 |  5:55 pm

Tomwolfe0912_2On the one hand, Tom Wolfe has earned the right to say whatever he wants. He's the author of 16 books of nonfiction, including "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," about Ken Kesey, and "The Right Stuff," about the Mercury astronauts. Not only is he a groundbreaking New Journalist, he's a novelist who writes big, big books. His most recent, 2004's "I Am Charlotte Simmons," is 752 pages. At 77, he's working on his fifth novel.

On the other hand, couldn't he try to be nice? He agreed to answer 10 questions for Time magazine. Asked for his thoughts about the current state of fiction, Wolfe responded:

"There's so little of it now that it's pathetic, and it's pathetic all over. Writers come from master of fine arts programs now. If you add up the college education of Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner, you get to spring break of freshman year."

Golly. In the interview, he isn't much kinder to the drug-takers in Kesey's circle or journalists who disagree with him politically.

But then again, he wasn't kind to the well-heeled do-gooders of "Radical Chic" either (the essay is included in the new book "New York Stories"). Maybe being able to call pathetic when he sees pathetic is part of Tom Wolfe's charm.

— Carolyn Kellogg