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I Am Charlotte Simmons

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by Tom Wolfe

Every time I have ever read a Tom Wolfe novel, there came a point when I asked myself, "Why am I reading this?" The question was usually prompted by the numbing quality of the shocking language or the utter baseness with which he paints most of humanity. I would ask myself, "Are people really like this? Why do I want to spend time with these people?"

And then, if I stuck with it, the answer would come before the novel concluded. Perhaps it is in seeing the baseness, the lowest we can be, that we realize we are not alone - and that we can aspire to be more.

Charlotte Simmons is a coming of age novel in the extreme. The title character is a brilliant back woods girl who enters the Ivy League university with dreams of intellectual grandeur, and instead finds spoiled, rich, drunk, shallow, amoral classmates in every corridor. The challenges of Charlotte's freshman year in college are enough to make any parent cringe, and had me wondering if I was such a dweeb I missed out on all the pain of college life.

I am amazed that Tom Wolfe, a 74 year old man, can capture the angst of an 18 year old girl quite as sublimely as he does. This is definitely a read at your own risk novel - the language is harsh and the sexuality can be devastating - but there is something redeeming here at the end of the day. I give a qualified thumbs up to Tom Wolfe's latest bestseller, I Am Charlotte Simmons. On the Book Beat for KSL Newsradio 1160, I'm Amanda Dickson.

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