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And how rarely our hooked-up boys and girls are introduced by name!-as Tom Wolfe has discovered from a survey of girls' File-o-Fax diaries, to cite but one of Hooking Up's displays of his famed reporting prowess. Wolfe ranges from coast to coast chronicling everything from the sexual manners and mores of teenagers... to fundamental changes in the way human beings now regard themselves thanks to the hot new field of genetics and neuroscience. . . to the inner workings of television's magazine-show sting operations.
Printed here in its entirety is "Ambush at Fort Bragg," a novella about sting TV in which Wolfe prefigured with eerie accuracy three cases of scandal and betrayal that would soon explode in the press. A second piece of fiction, "U. R. Here," the story of a New York artist who triumphs precisely because of his total lack of talent, gives us a case history preparing us for Wolfe's forecast ("My Three Stooges," "The Invisible Artist") of radical changes about to sweep the arts in America.
As an espresso after so much full-bodied twenty-first-century fare, we get a trip to Memory Mall. Reprinted here for the first time are Wolfe's two articles about The New Yorker magazine and its editor, William Shawn, which ignited one of the great firestorms of twentieth-century journalism. Wolfe's afterword about it all is in itself a delicious draught of an intoxicating era, the Twistin' Sixties.
In sum, here is Tom Wolfe at the height of his powers as reporter, novelist, sociologist, memoirist, and-to paraphrase what Balzac called himself-the very secretary of American society in the 21st century.
Equally bitter fun are his two famous 1965 satires from the New York Herald Tribune. As always, Wolfe's titles lead you a good way into the actual stories: "Tiny Mummies! The True Story of the Ruler of 43rd Street's Land of the Walking Dead!" and "Lost in the Whichy Thickets: The New Yorker." Wolfe, clotheshorse of note, gets off some of his best cracks at the expense of New Yorker editor William Shawn's fashion sense: "He always seems to have on about twenty layers of clothes, about three button-up sweaters, four vests, a couple of shirts, two ties, it looks that way, a dark shapeless suit over the whole ensemble, and white cotton socks." The rest of the reported pieces are unexceptional, and while the novella Ambush at Fort Bragg makes the most of its setting--a Dateline-like newsmagazine--it lacks the irresistible momentum required to drag most readers into a novella. Still, it's fun to watch the author reprise his lifelong role of unlikely underdog: between his sniping at the literary elite and his mocking of the precious New Yorker set, Tom Wolfe makes like a defender of the common man. --Claire Dederer