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A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe


Tom Wolfe is one of my favourite writers, I have read many of his materials both fiction and non fiction, and he is nearly always able to illuminate his subject matter for the reader and really capture the culture and spirit of his characters.


In A Man in Full the diverse set runs the gamut from the powerful business tycoon, Charlie Croker, to an emasculated banker, to a black mayor enjoying the influence that comes with his position, to Roger II (read too) White, a black lawyer who feels his success has left him estranged from those of his same ethnicity, to Conrad a low level labourer seeking to assert control over his life despite a string of misfortunes culminating in his imprisonment.

All the aforementioned appear to be quite different personalities yet they are held together by the same traits, namely concern about status, power and influence and how to keep, gain or regain control over uncertain lives. As I have mentioned Wolfe’s great skill is in articulating the ideas and sentiments of his often diverse characters and in A Man in Full the eclectic set are bound together by concerns about status and influence which are affected by gender and race.

Charlie Croker

Like Sheldon McCoy, Wolfe’s bond salesman and master of the universe protagonist in Bonfire, Charlie Croker (an Atlanta real estate developer) is a man of financial clout who is used to being in control. However, he suddenly finds the control of his domain slipping away from him due to his massive levels of debt brought about by his own hubris in building a large complex at huge cost which he is unable to lease. This comes to a head during a meeting with the bank as the loan officers lay down the law with him.

Charlie Croker, the former College Football star, feels he is losing control, as he grows older and feebler. He is desperate to show that he remains the big man on campus to all those around him like his shooting feats or handling of a stallion at his grand plantation staffed predominantly by black workers. The not so subtle nod to American slavery history tells us more about Croker, a big man with a big personality who likes to dominate people, suddenly enfeebled by age and his own hubris in taking ever greater financial risks. In this respect he now seems outdated in modern socially liberal Atlanta ruled by a black mayor where gay rights are on the horizon.

The dilemma

Croker is at a low ebb when he is unexpectedly approached by Roger II White, an exceptionally well attired black lawyer who makes him a proposal to keep the creditor wolves away from Croker if Croker expresses sympathy for Fareek Fanon, a hot shot young black college football player who has been rumoured to have raped the daughter of a key member of Atlanta’s business interests (read white establishment) who is also a friend of Croker, in a press conference called by the mayor of Atlanta. The opportunity is enticing for Croker even after he meets the brash young football star and takes a strong dislike to him. The potential for stoking of racial tensions is the reason for the mayor’s press conference but it doesn’t hurt that an election is close and his former NBA star rival appears to have more support among the majority black Atlantan populace.

Bringing it together

In outlining his different characters the reader is absorbed into the cultural backgrounds of this eclectic range of people. This includes a political rally for a mayoral candidate at a methodist black church, a Freaknik* street party which offends white establishment sensibilities,and quail shooting on the plantation of good ol’ boy Charlie Croker (a cracker who made good).

Wolfe develops a diverse set of characters who follow different story lines and then ties them all together to bring the story to its culmination. This is a well written novel that addresses issues of race, power, status and how people gain control over their lives. A master story teller, Wolfe develops characters of depth, whilst interweaving their own desires within a complex broader story. Gripping, engaging, and informative this is a great book which will keep you turning the pages.

*Street parties with hip hop music and dancing held in Atlanta by young black university students when they returned home during spring break. See the wikipedia entry on Freaknik here:


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