The Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel by Tom Wolfe

The Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel

byTom Wolfe

Paperback | March 4, 2008

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Vintage Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities, the #1 bestseller that will forever define late-twentieth-century New York style. "No one has portrayed New York Society this accurately and devastatingly since Edith Wharton" (The National Review)"A page-turner . . . Brilliant high comedy." (The New Republic)

About The Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.
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Details & Specs

Title:The Bonfire of the Vanities: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:704 pages, 8.19 × 5.55 × 1.21 inPublished:March 4, 2008Publisher:PicadorLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312427573

ISBN - 13:9780312427573

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Prologue: Mutt on Fire"And then say what? say, 'forget you're hungry, forget you got shot innaback by some racist cop-Chuck was here? Chuck come up toHarlem-'""No, I'll tell you what-""'Chuck come up to Harlem and-'"''I'll tell you what-""Say, 'Chuck come up to Harlem and gonna take care a business forthe black community'?"That does it.Heh-heggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!It's one of those ungodly contralto cackles somewhere out there inthe audience. It's a sound from down so deep, from under so many lavishlayers, he knows exactly what she must look like. Two hundredpounds, if she's an ounce! Built like an oil burner! The cackle sets offthe men. They erupt with those belly sounds he hates so much.They go, "Hehhehheh ... unnnnhhhh-hunhhh ... That's right ...Tell 'em, bro ... Yo ... "Chuck! The insolent-he's right there, right there in the front-hejust called him a Charlie! Chuck is short for Charlie, and Charlie is theold code name for a down-home white bigot. The insolence of it! Theimpudence! The heat and glare are terrific. It makes the Mayor squint.It's the TV lights. He's inside a blinding haze. He can barely make outthe heckler's face. He sees a tall silhouette and the fantastic bony anglesthe man's elbows make when he throws his hands up in the air. And anearring. The man has a big gold earring in one ear.The Mayor leans into the microphone and says, "No, I'll tell youwhat. Okay? I'll give you the actual figures. Okay?""We don't want your figures, man!"Man, he says! The insolence! "You brought it up, my friend. Soyou're gonna get the actual figures. Okay?""Don't you shine us up with no more your figures!"Another eruption in the crowd, louder this time: "Unnnnh-unnnnhunnnh... Tell 'im, bra ... Y' on the case ... Yo, Gober!""In this administration-and it's a matter of public record-the percentageof the total annual budget for New York City-""Aw, maaaan," yells the heckler, "don't you stand there and shine usup with no more your figures and your bureaucratic rhetoric!"They love it. The insolence! The insolence sets off another eruption.He peers through the scalding glare of the television lights. He keepssquinting. He's aware of a great mass of silhouettes out in front of him.The crowd swells up. The ceiling presses down. It's covered in beigetiles. The tiles have curly incisions all over them. They're crumblingaround the edges. Asbestos! He knows it when he sees it! The faces they'rewaiting for the beano, for the rock fight. Bloody noses!-that'sthe idea. The next instant means everything. He can handle it! He canhandle hecklers! Only five-seven, but he's even better at it than Kochused to be! He's the mayor of the greatest city on earth-New York!Him!"All right! You've had your fun, and now you're gonna shut up for aminute!"That startles the heckler. He freezes. That's all the Mayor needs. Heknows how to do it."Youuuu asked meeeee a question, didn't you, and you got a bigggglaugh from your claque. And so now youuuuu're gonna keep quiiiiet andlissssten to the answer. Okay?""Say, claque?" The man has had his wind knocked out, but he's stillstanding up."Okay? Now here are the statistics for youm community, right here,Harlem.""Say, claque?" The bastard has hold of this word claque like a bone."Ain' nobody can eat statistics, man!""Tell 'im, bra ... Yo ... Yo, Gober!""Let me finish. Do youuuuu think-""Don't percentage no annual budget with us, man! We want jobs!"The crowd erupts again. It's worse than before. Much of it he can'tmake out-interjections from deep in the bread basket. But there's thisYo business. There's some loudmouth way in back with a voice that cutsthrough everything."Yo, Gober! Yo, Gober! Yo, Gober!"But he isn't saying Gober. He's saying Goldberg."Yo, Goldberg! Yo, Goldberg! Yo, Goldberg!"It stuns him. In this place, in Harlem! Goldberg is the Harlem cognomenfor Jew. It's insolent-outrageous! -that anyone throws this vilenessin the face of the Mayor of New York City!Boos, hisses,, grunts, belly laughs, shouts. They want to see someloose teeth. It's out of control."Do you-"It's no use. He can't make himself heard even with the microphone.The hate in their faces! Pure poison! It's mesmerizing."Yo, Goldberg! Yo, Goldberg! Yo, Hymie!"Hymie! That business! There's one of them yelling Goldberg and anotherone yelling Hymie. Then it dawns on him. Reverend Bacon!They're Bacon's people. He's sure of it. The civic-minded people whocome to public meetings in Harlem-the people Sheldon was supposedto make sure filled up this hall-they wouldn't be out there yellingthese outrageous things. Bacon did this! Sheldon fucked up! Bacon gothis people in here!A wave of the purest self-pity rolls over the Mayor. Out of the cornerof his eye he can see the television crews squirming around in the hazeof light. Their cameras are coming out of their heads like horns. They'reswiveling around this way and that. They're eating it up! They're herefor the brawl! They wouldn't lift a finger. They're cowards! Parasites!The lice of public life!In the next moment he has a terrible realization: "It's over. I can't believeit. I've lost.""No more your ... Outta here ... Boooo ... Don' wanna ... Yo,Goldberg!"Guliaggi, the head of the Mayor's plainclothes security detail, iscoming toward him from the side of the stage. The Mayor motions himback with a low flap of his hand, without looking at him directly. Whatcould he do, anyway? He brought only four officers with him. He didn'twant to come up here with an army. The whole point was to show thathe could go to Harlem and hold a town-hall meeting, just the way hecould in Riverdale or Park Slope.In the front row, through the haze, he catches the eye of Mrs. Langhorn,the woman with the shingle hairdo, the head of the communityboard, the woman who introduced him just-what?-minutes ago.She purses her lips and cocks her head and starts shaking it. This lookis supposed to say, "I wish I could help you, but what can I do? Beholdthe wrath of the people!" Oh, she's afraid like all the rest! She knowsshe should stand up against this element! They'll go after black peoplelike her next! They'll be happy to do it! She knows that. But the goodpeople are intimidated! They don't dare do a thing! Back to blood!Them and us!"Go on home! ... Booooo ... Yagggghhh ... Yo!"He tries the microphone again. "Is this what-is this what-"Hopeless. Like yelling at the surf. He wants to spit in their eyes. Hewants to tell them he's not afraid. You're not making me look bad! You'reletting a handful of hustlers in this hall make all of Harlem look bad!You let a couple of loudmouths call me Goldberg and Hymie, and youdon't shout them down-you shout me down! It's unbelievable! Doyou-you hardworking, respectable, God-fearing people of Harlem,you Mrs. Langhorns, you civic-minded people-do you really thinkthey're your brothers! Who have your friends been all these years? TheJews! And you let these hustlers call me a Charlie! They call me thesethings, and you say nothing?The whole hall appears to be jumping up and down. They're wavingtheir fists. Their mouths are open. They're screaming. If they jump anyhigher, they'll bounce off the ceiling.It'll be on TV. The whole city will see it. They'll love it. Harlem risesup! What a show! Not the hustlers and the operators and the players riseup-but Harlem rises up! All of black New York rises up! He's onlymayor for some of the people! He's the mayor of White New York! Setfire to the mutt! The Italians will watch this on TV, and they'll love it.And the Irish. Even the Wasps. They won't know what they're looking at.They'll sit in their co-ops on Park and Fifth and East Seventy-secondStreet and Sutton Place, and they'll shiver with the violence of it and enjoythe show. Cattle! Birdbrains! Rosebuds! Goyim! You don't evenknow, do you? Do you really think this is your city any longer? Openyour eyes! The greatest city of the twentieth century! Do you thinkmoney will keep it yours?Come down from your swell co-ops, you general partners and mergerlawyers! It's the Third World down there! Puerto Ricans, West Indians,Haitians, Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, Hondurans, Koreans,Chinese, Thais, Vietnamese, Ecuadorians, Panamanians, Filipinos, Albanians,Senegalese, and Afro-Americans! Go visit the frontiers, yougutless wonders! Morningside Heights, St. Nicholas Park, WashingtonHeights, Fort Tryon-por que pagar mas! The Bronx-the Bronx is finishedfor you! Riverdale is just a little freeport up there! PelhamParkway-keep the corridor open to Westchester! Brooklyn-yourBrooklyn is no more! Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope-little Hong Kongs,that's all! And Queens! Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Hollis, Jamaica,Ozone Park-whose is it? Do you know? And where does that leaveRidgewood, Bayside, and Forest Hills? Have you ever thought aboutthat! And Staten Island! Do you Saturday do-it-yourselfers really thinkyou're snug in your little rug? You don't think the future knows how tocross a bridge? And you, you Wasp charity-bailers sitting on yourmounds of inherited money up in your co-ops with the twelve-foot ceilingsand the two wings, one for you and one for the help, do you reallythink you're impregnable? And you German-Jewish financiers whohave finally made it into the same buildings, the better to insulate yourselvesfrom the shtetl hordes, do you really think you're insulated fromthe Third World?You poor fatties! You marshmallows! Hens! Cows! You wait'll youhave a Reverend Bacon for a mayor, and a City Council and a Board ofEstimate with a bunch of Reverend Bacons from one end of the chamberto the other! You'll get to know them then, all right! They'll come seeyou! They'll come see you at 60 Wall and Number One Chase ManhattanPlaza! They'll sit on your desks and drum their fingers! They'll dustout your safe-deposit boxes for you, free of charge-Completely crazy, these things roaring through his head! Absolutelyparanoid! Nobody's going to elect Bacon to anything. Nobody's going tomarch downtown. He knows that. But he feels so alone! Abandoned!Misunderstood! Me! You wait'll you don't have me any longer! See howyou like it then! And you let me stand here alone at this lectern with agod damned asbestos ceiling corning down on my head-"Boooo! ... Yegggghhh! ... Yaaaggghhh! ... Yo! ... Goldberg!"There's a terrific commotion on one side of the stage. The TV lightsare right in his face. A whole lot of pushing and shoving-he sees a cameramango down. Some of the bastards are heading for the stairs to thestage, and the television crews are in the way. So they're going overthem. Shoving-shoving somebody back down the stairs-his men, theplainclothes detail, the big one, Norrejo-Norrejo's shoving somebodyback down the stairs. Something hits the Mayor on the shoulder. It hurtslike hell! There on the floor-a jar of mayonnaise, an eight-ounce jar ofHellmann's mayonnaise. Half full! Half consumed! Somebody hasthrown a half-eaten jar of Hellmann's mayonnaise at him! In that instantthe most insignificant thing takes over his mind. Who in the nameof God would bring a half-eaten eight-ounce jar of Hellmann's mayonnaiseto a public meeting?The goddamned lights! People are up on the stage ... a lot of thrashingabout ... a regular melee ... Norrejo grabs some big devil aroundthe waist and sticks his leg behind him and throws him to the floor. Theother two detectives, Holt and Danforth, have their backs to the Mayor.They're crouched like blocking backs protecting a passer. Guliaggi isright beside him."Get behind me," says Guliaggi. "We're going through that door."Is he smiling? Guliaggi seems to have this little smile on his face. Hemotions his head toward a door at the rear of the stage. He's short, he hasa small head, a low forehead, small narrow eyes, a flat nose, a wide meanmouth with a narrow mustache. The Mayor keeps staring at his mouth. Isthat a smile? It can't be, but maybe it is. This strange mean twist to his lipsseems to be saying: "It's been your show up to now, but now it's mine."Somehow the smile decides the issue. The Mayor gives up hisCuster's command post at the lectern. He gives himself over to this littlerock. Now the others are closed in around him, too, Norrejo, Holt, Danforth.They're around him like the four corners of a pen. People are allover the stage. Guliaggi and Norrejo are muscling their way through themob. The Mayor is right on their heels. Snarling faces are all aroundhim. There's some character barely two feet from him who keeps jumpingup and yelling, "You little white-haired pussy!" He keeps saying it."You little white-haired pussy!"Right in front of him-the big heckler himself! The one with the elbowsand the gold earring! Guliaggi is between the Mayor and the heckler,but the heckler towers over Guliaggi. He must be six five. Hescreams at the Mayor, right in his face:"Go on back-oof!"All at once the big son of a bitch is sinking, with his mouth open andhis eyes bugged out. Guliaggi has driven his elbow and forearm into theman's solar plexus.Guliaggi reaches the door and opens it. The Mayor follows. He feelsthe other detectives pushing him through from behind. He sprawlsagainst Guliaggi's back. The guy's a piece of stone!They're going down a stairway. They're clattering on some metalstrips. He's in one piece. The mob isn't even on his heels. He's safe-hisheart sinks. They're not even trying to follow him. They never reallytried to touch him. And in that moment ... he knows. He knows evenbefore his mind can put it all together."I did the wrong thing. I gave in to that little smile. I panicked. I'velost it all.""Prologue: Mutt on Fire" excerpt from The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. The Bonfire of the Vanities copyright © 1987 by Tom Wolfe. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Picador and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Editorial Reviews

"A big, bitter, funny, craftily plotted book that grabs you by the lapels and won't let you go." -The New York Times Book Review"The Bonfire of the Vanities chronicles the collapse of a Wall Street bond trader, and examines a world in which fortunes are made and lost at the blink of a computer screen. . . . Wolfe's subject couldn't be more topical: New Yorkers' relentless pursuit and flaunting of wealth, and the fury it evokes in the have-nots." -USA Today"A superb human comedy and the first novel ever to get contemporary New York, in all its arrogance and shame and heterogeneity and insularity, exactly right." -The Washington Post Book World"A page-turner . . . Brilliant high comedy." -The New Republic"More than a tour de force." -Time