American literature, and American life, will be poorer without Tom Wolfe

We needed him to chronicle the gaudy spectacle of America — its highs as well as its lows.

I was not, alas, close to Tom Wolfe. I knew him only slightly: I saw him at occasional parties and dinners at his Upper East Side haunts, including the Lotos Club, where a glorious full-length portrait of him hangs in the lobby. I went to a few shindigs at his beautifully appointed apartment decorated with German Expressionist posters. But I am nevertheless devastated by his passing. It seems inconceivable that the gaudy spectacle of America can continue to unfold without the man in white chronicling its highs and lows.

Wolfe was often described as a master of verbal pyrotechnics, and so he was. His style — all that onomatopoeia, all those punctuation marks — was easy to imitate but hard to master. He coined so many terms that are now part of the language: social X-rays, masters of the universe, radical chic, the right stuff, the Me Decade. But it wasn’t just about impressing the reader with his command of English. He used his rococo language to get inside the heads of his characters and reveal what motivated them — which in his telling was, above all, the quest for status.

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