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More right stuff?

Tom Wolfe's 'A Man in Full' makes 'unprecedented' launch

Web posted on: Tuesday, November 10, 1998 2:35:25 PM EST

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's all over but the reading -- the pre-publishing hype, that is.

Tom Wolfe's new book, "A Man in Full," was released in bookstores across the country on Friday, following months of build-up, plugging and downright shameless promotion.

In the time leading up to the book's release, Wolfe was featured in too many publications to count; he was invited to speak at an Atlanta business luncheon, then uninvited as the "City Too Busy To Hate" buzzed with the news that the book might paint an unflattering portrait of the town.

Perhaps most amazing, "A Man in Full" was nominated for the National Book Award -- before the first copy of the astounding 1.2 million first-run printing was sold.

All this, for a writer whose only published work in the last 11 years was a novella, "Ambush at Fort Bragg," released last year on audiotape and CD only. Wolfe had gone so long without giving fans a full-blown novel that his last one, "The Bonfire of the Vanities," was in immediate danger of becoming retro.

'It's unprecedented'

But then, absence makes the heart grow fonder, not to mention that this, after all, is Tom Wolfe we're talking about.

"It's the best-selling book in our store and it has been every day since it came out," says Tom Bales of Borders Bookstore in the Buckhead neighborhood where parts of the novel are based. Bales says Wolfe will appear at his store for an autograph session on November 19, and Borders is preparing for a massive rush of well-over 1,000 people.

Listen to a excerpt from the book:

Windows Media: 28k or 56k

"It's unprecedented, the excitement around this book," Bales says. "We're getting 20 calls a day from people wanting to know when to show up (for the autograph session)."

Wolfe's publicist, Jeff Seroy, says the book is outperforming expectations nationwide.

"It has escaped the force of gravity," Seroy says of the book's launch, adding that the public reaction, while impressive, "was desired in our heart of hearts."

Worth the hype?

So, is this latest venture in fiction -- Wolfe's second in a stellar writing career founded on award-winning reporting and nonfiction -- worth all the hype?

Reviews have been solid across the board. The encompassing "A Man in Full" tightrope-walks racial fault lines in Atlanta, depicting a series of stories that intersect in classic Wolfeian plot structure. Charlie Croker is the star, an egotistical 60-year-old Southern-fried "man in full" and former Georgia Tech football star whose real estate business is now over $500 million in debt.

Desperate and bigoted, Croker, who is referrred to as "Cap'n Charlie" by the black workers on his quail-shooting plantation, struggles with the humiliation of his debt and organizes a Ku Klux Klan rally to deflate the price of a prized piece of real estate.

Race relations in Atlanta are further strained when Fareek "The Cannon" Fanon, a black football star at Croker's alma mater, is accused of raping the white daughter of a prominent Atlanta businessman during the city's annual Freaknik bash.

The novel runs deep with insider information into Atlanta's various communities. Wolfe spent a good deal of time in Atlanta during the late '80s and early '90s researching for the book, interviewing the city's real estate magnates and social/political elite, while touring places like Chambodia (Atlanta's Asian district) and the projects of the city's south side. The resulting story is so closely intertwined with fact and fiction, it's no wonder that it's been compared to "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which turned Savannah, Georgia, on its ear.

The right stuff

Not that any of this hype matters to Wolfe-hungry fans who have been starving for a new feast. To them, the plot of the book matters less than who's telling it, and Wolfe's reputation precedes him by a long-shot.

In fiction, Wolfe blended houndog reporting with a story for the ages to create "Bonfire of the Vanities," a tale clashing Park Avenue with the Bronx. The book is seen as the defining look of 1980s New York City, in all its corrupt and power-greedy glory. It was popular enough to be translated to the big screen in a movie starring box office kingpins Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, though the film flopped.

In nonfiction, Wolfe redefined journalism with works like "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and "The Right Stuff," the latter which was made into an Oscar-winning film.

It will be interesting to see whether or not "A Man in Full" has the staying power of Wolfe's other works. If it wins National Book Award, which is announced November 18, that will be one more argument for the merits of Tom Wolfe.

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