I Am Charlotte Simmons A Novel

Tom Wolfe




Trade Paperback

752 Pages


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Tom Wolfe, the master social novelist of our time, the spot-on chronicler of all things contemporary and cultural, presents a sensational new novel about life, love, and learning—or the lack of it—amid today's American colleges.

Our story unfolds at fictional Dupont University: those Olympian halls of scholarship housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.

As Charlotte encounters the paragons of Dupont's privileged elite—her roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university's "independent" newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campus—she is seduced by the heady glamour of acceptance, betraying both her values and upbringing before she grasps the power of being different—and the exotic allure of her own innocence.

With his trademark satirical wit and famously sharp eye for telling detail, Wolfe draws on extensive observations at campuses across the country to immortalize the early-21st-century college-going experience.

Also available on CD as an audiobook, in both abridged and unabridged editions. Please email [email protected] for more information.


Praise for I Am Charlotte Simmons

"Most authors write about one person again and again: themselves. This can be riveting—as in the work, say, of Philip Roth or Elfriede Jelinek—as well as soporific, as in so many personal essays and mid-list memoirs. And yet it is a particularly rare achievement when an author can imaginatively empathize with as vast an array of contrary personalities as we encounter in Wolfe's work. Wolfe may live in a fancy block-long apartment on the Upper East Side, but he clearly does not stay indoors. He walks his white suit into the dark corners of American social, sexual, and criminal life and returns with an intuitive, empirical, and arresting grasp of his fellow citizens. One reviewer, faced with Wolfe's gritty portraits of prison inmates in A Man in Full, wondered if his research had involved a ten-year incarceration. Charlotte Simmons is a further extension of Wolfe's range. Both in his early nonfiction and later fiction, Wolfe has 'done' men: seven strapping astronauts in The Right Stuff, the testosterone-driven investment banker Sherman McCoy in Bonfire of the Vanities, the ex–football star Charlie Croker in A Man in Full. He has done narcissistic mayors, overachieving lawyers, and power-hungry demagogues. This time, he puts himself into the head of an 18-year-old coed, a sheltered Christian girl from the North Carolina mountains whose mother taught her to say 'I am Charlotte Simmons, and I don't hold with that' if anyone ever asks her to do something she does not want. When Charlotte arrives on the sex-crazed, alcohol-drenched, athlete-worshipping campus of Dupont, her worldview suffers some earthquakes. The result is a set of sharply observed, poignant, and often hilarious skits in which—surprisingly, given the setup—Wolfe never once stereotypes, oversimplifies, or beatifies his rural heroine. Instead, he allows her all the complexity, extreme self-consciousness, acuity, manipulativeness, and vanity he has accorded the richest of his protagonists . . . Wolfe portrays vanity, one-upmanship, and affectation with surgical precision. He is the great bard of self-consciousness. He does not, however, disdain the characters whose self-congratulations and petty envies he exposes; his eye is piercing but gentle. Charlotte may use her date, but it is not for this reason that we feel better about the way he proceeds to use her. The scene in which she loses her virginity is among the most detailed and harrowing seduction scenes ever described by a man from a woman's point of view. If Wolfe's book consisted only of this scene, it would disprove one of the more fashionable, and fallacious, literary consensuses of our day: that men cannot write for women, nor women for men. 'We're seeing the end of universality,' novelist Michael Cunningham said to general applause at a recent literary fest. 'A book that speaks to a 65-year-old white guy may actually have nothing to say to a 23-year-old Jamaican woman.' It may not—but it can. Real literature proves as much—and Tom Wolfe is real literature."—Cristina Nehring, New York magazine

"Charlotte Simmons . . . is brilliant, wicked, true, and, like everything Wolfe writes, thematically coherent, cunningly well plotted, and delightfully told. Certainly one factor that elevates fiction from mere 'entertainment' to even 'modest aspirant' literature is substance. Is the book about something important? Does it reward study? Is the author saying anything new? Is the work carefully crafted around a theme? . . . Charlotte is a construction, a device, one in a long and celebrated series of satirical vehicles in English literature, all the way back to Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews. On the surface she is fragile, but underneath she is a warrior, a 'Spartan.' Charlotte is, by degrees, sucked into the campus culture. She is lured into the self-abnegating realm of Starling's neuro-science lab, which is guided by an extreme behaviorism that denies consciousness itself, and with it free will and morality. She is ravished and discarded by the novel's chief predator, and plunged into profound depression and confusion, only to rally and establish herself, mind and body. The novel's title, echoing Descartes, announces her triumph over Starling's behaviorism and the tawdry reality of Dupont. Mendelsohn completely misses the point when he describes Charlotte as having been, at the end of the book, "reduced by her own craving for 'acceptance' to being arm-candy for a famous college jock." Far from it: she has beaten back the hedonistic tide of peer pressure, escaped the soul-deadening pull of Starling's lab, and reasserted her selfhood and her moral bearings. She is said jock's girlfriend, a fact that marks her ascension to the top rung of social status on campus—always a prime Wolfean preoccupation—and she holds that distinction strictly on her own terms; she has restored the missing piece of her boyfriend's brain (turned him into a real student), and is, as Wolfe makes abundantly clear, the dominant partner in the relationship. In the distorted context of campus life, she rules. All this in her freshman year, no less . . . I Am Charlotte Simmons is so intricately imagined and carefully reported that it's no wonder the book is mistaken for social realism. It is indeed scary how close this story comes to the real world . . . Of all the writers in the world, Tom Wolfe is the last to need defending. Beneath that pale, skinny, dandified exterior is a two-fisted brawler and committed self-promoter. In his long career, he has rhetorically stuck his thumb in the eye of The New Yorker (a history that lends Updike's appraisal a tincture of tit for tat), the New Left, hippies, Black Panthers, astronauts, architects, and artists, among many others, but his longest-running battle has been with the fashionable notion of the "serious" literary novel . . . Wolfe scores for me in every category, most notably language. My own Wernicke's area has long thrilled to the surprising and inventive turns of his narration. It is a voice so distinctive that it has launched a thousand bad imitations, and it is the vibrant core of everything Wolfe writes. His exuberant experiments in punctuation are easy to ridicule, but they are not just pointless display; they are an effort to harness on the page the velocity of his rhetoric, which runs full-throttle in a continual state of intellectual astonishment."—Mark Bowden, The Atlantic Monthly

"Like everything Wolfe writes, I Am Charlotte Simmons grabs your interest at the outset and saps the desire to do anything else until you finish."—Jacob Weisberg, The New York Times Book Review

"Sermon, melodrama, dystopian vision—I Am Charlotte Simmons partakes of all these, and does so stunningly . . . I couldn't stop reading it—who could? This is Tom Wolfe, after all . . . Wolfe can make words dance and sing and perform circus tricks, he can make the reader sigh with pleasure before his arias of coloratura description."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

"Wolfe takes no point of view, has no bill of goods to sell. He just calmly, coolly records the way things are, the way people look and talk . . . I don't know how the future will rank Tom Wolfe as a novelist, but he is a simply terrific journalist. Oh, sure, he exaggerates some when writing fiction to get the effects he wants; but you could put a Wolfe novel under a steel-mill press and not squeeze a single drop of sentimentality out of it. Wolfe's authorial tone to the reader is: You don't have to like this, and I'm not too crazy about it myself, but this is the way it is, and we both know it . . . What a mess our culture has gotten itself into! Here is Tom Wolfe to give you a guided tour. With some due allowance for novelist's license, he has done a brilliant job."—John Derbyshire, National Review

"A rollicking satire of college culture delivered in roaring Tom Wolfe prose . . . Charlotte Simmons [is] the most affecting protagonist Tom Wolfe has created."—Charles Foran, The Walrus

"[The book] raises some serious issues facing society and the culture of higher education."—Kale Bongers, The Dartmouth Review

"This novel is both an excoriation and a lament. It is a good read, cleverly constructed."—Cal McCrystal, The Independent

"Social satire is everywhere evident, but there is a sober theme, too, and it is very much worth paying attention to."—Harvey C. Mansfield, The Wall Street Journal

"Our pre-eminent social realist . . . trains his all-seeing eye on the institution of the American university . . . Wolfe's rhapsodic prose style finds its perfect target in academia's beer-soaked bacchanals."—Henry Alford, Newsday

"[A] hilarious, exclamation-point filled novel."—John Freeman, Time Out New York

"Wolfe is one of the greatest literary stylists and social observers of our much observed postmodern era . . . A rich, wise, absorbing and irresistible novel."—Lev Grossman, Time

"Tom Wolfe has scored a slam dunk with his . . . attention to style, the rule-bending punctuation, the deftness of slang dialogue and that biting satire."—Steve Garbarino, New York Post

"Wolfe's dialogue is some of the finest in literature, not just fast but deep. He hears the cacophony of our modern lives."—Susan Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"A lot of fun . . . Hilarious."—Francine Prose, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Tom Wolfe remains a peerless satirist. Alone among our fiction writers he is actively writing the human comedy, American-style, on a grand Dickensian scale."—David Lehman, Bloomberg News

Reviews from Goodreads




  • I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Tom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. Tom Wolfe, the master social novelist of our time, the spot-on chronicler of all things contemporary and cultural, presents a sensational new novel about life, love, and learning--or the lack of it--amid today's American colleges. Our story unfolds at fictional Dupont University: those Olympian halls of scholarship housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . O



  • Tom Wolfe

  • Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. Wolfe lives in New York City.

  • Tom Wolfe Copyright Mark Seliger
    Tom Wolfe




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