TOM WOLFE is back. Hurray.
It is a long time since Wolfe has come out with any fresh non-fiction, so even an op-ed in the New York Times was much welcome (lengthy silences from someone pushing 78 is always worrisome).
It also helped that ‘One Giant Leap to Nowhere‘ is not your average feet-on-the-desk-smoke-a-cigar-and-pontificate column, but (near) vintage Wolfe — founded on original reportage from the days when he was working on Right Stuff, delivered in his trademark tone of breathless excitement, with hyphenations, ellipses and exclamations galore. Here’s a clip:
He was up for only five hours, compared to Titov’s 25, but he was our … Protector! Against all odds he had risked his very hide for … us! — protected us from our mortal enemy! — struck back in the duel in the heavens! — showed the world that we Americans were born fighting and would never give up! John Glenn made us whole again!
There were plenty of ka-booms! too, taking us back to the eccentric, ‘sound-effected’ prose Wolfe sired in ‘There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby’, the 1964 Esquire piece that signalled his arrival on the literary journalism scene — a prose he explored further in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Radical chic & mau-mauing the flak-catchers, and … well, in almost everything he wrote thereafter. Here’s Wolfe again, circa 2009 :
They were already up there — right above us! They could now hurl thunderbolts down whenever and wherever they wanted. And what could we do about it? Nothing. Ka-boom! There goes Bangor … Ka-boom! There goes Boston … Ka-boom! There goes New York … Baltimore … Washington … St. Louis … Denver … San Jose — blown away! — just like that.
Students of literary journalism will be interested to note how NYT introduces Wolfe — as the ‘author of Right Stuff, an account of the Mercury Seven astronauts’. No mention of him being one of the Great American reporters, no mention of New Journalism.
Ditto, the Village Voice, which came out with a biting — and enjoyable — response to Wolfe’s “whine”, penned by editor-in-chief Tony Ortega. Here’s a taster:
By now, Wolfe figures he should be enjoying the sight of regular flights to Jupiter’s moons, and Silent Running-like interstellar space colonies taking the gifts of humanity to other arms of the galaxy.
But no. Turns out sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and a handful of others to the surface of the moon was the apogee of our space program, and everything has been cratering since then.
“Forty years!” Wolfe laments, wondering where all the time has gone and why we aren’t shooting astronauts all over hell and gone by now.
Yes, ONLY forty years, you sartorial douche. That might be a long time for a single human being, but it’s nothing in the time scale of our species or even on the scale of our previous efforts at discovery.
For more of Ortega’s no-punches-pulled piece, read the full version here. Enjoy.
And remember, Wolfe’s still around.