Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Tom Wolfe Kept a Close, Comical and Astonished Eye on America
By Dwight Garner
May 15, 2018
In this April 22, 2002 file photo, President Bush, left, poses with author Tom Wolfe, center, and first lady Laura Bush during the National Endowment for the Arts National Medal Awards ceremony at Constitution Hall in Washington . Wolfe was a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. Wolfe died at a New York City hospital. He was 88. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The bursts of asterisks, the scattering of exclamation points and ellipses, the syncopated distribution of repeated phrases and capitalized words — one could spot a Tom Wolfe sentence a room away. He seemed astonished by America, and he expressed that astonishment in sentences that zinged up and out like bottle rockets.
Wolfe, who died on Monday at 88, was a breaker of journalistic conventions at a time when American society was breaking many of its own, and his was a style other writers liked to imitate and parody. Kurt Vonnegut, in his review of “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” (1965), Wolfe’s first book, wrote: “Holy animals! Sebaceous sleepers! Oxymorons and serpentae carminael! Tabescent! Infarcted! Stretchpants netherworld! Schlock!”