I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe — Reviewed by Guy Portman
Appalachian wunderkind Charlotte Simmons has been awarded a scholarship to Dupont, an elite fictional university, steeped in tradition. Living amongst the cream of America’s youth is set to be a big change for a prudish girl, hailing from a backward and economically deprived rural town. Matters get off to an inauspicious start when, on arrival at Dupont, Charlotte and her impoverished parents are introduced to privileged new roommate Beverly, her finicky mother and wealthy CEO father.
Dupont proves to be a materialistic and superficial place where academic achievement is viewed as inferior to sex and cool. This is a world of sororities, drinking, partying and endless immature antics. At the top of the hierarchy are the college’s deified, oversexed and arrogant sports stars. Will Charlotte remain a straight-laced mummy’s girl, or will she succumb to peer pressure?
I Am Charlotte Simmons is a satire about campus life. Themes include materialism, social class, race and America’s obsession with college sport. Though prone to verbosity author Tom Wolfe is a capable humourist and an ever-enthusiastic social commentator.
In this reader’s opinion this book is excessively long (676 pages), a consequence of superfluous detail. Some will find Charlotte an onerous protagonist, most notably during her drawn-out angst in the latter stages. However, there are a host of colourful characters, albeit in some instances clichéd, to keep one entertained.