The Bonfire of the Vanities

We're reading avidly these days. After several zealous endorsements from friends, we plunged into Tom Wolfe's 1980s New York. Wolfe's critically acclaimed The Bonfire of the Vanities ruthlessly exposes the superficiality of 1980s culture through the protagonist of Park Avenue resident and bond trader, Sherman McCoy. In a biting satiric style, he spares no one from the top to the bottom of society. He directs his most serious criticism, however, to the upper class, with their extravagant dinner parties, 6-block hired-car rides which cost $250, and thousand-dollar flower arrangements.

Wolfe's version of New York in The Bonfire of the Vanities displays the worst of human nature, and very little of the good. Though most of the characters of all races and classes are shown to be selfish and morally flawed, the wealthy WASP world of Sherman McCoy is shown to be the worst bastion of, prejudice, elitism, and self-delusion.

Although Bonfire was adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis in 1990, it was a flop. Stick to the book (as usual). At 690 pages, its a thick, but intriguing, commentary on a 1980s New York. In 2007, on the book's 20th anniversary of publication, The New York Times published a retrospective on how the city had changed since Wolfe's novel, titled "No Longer the City of 'Bonfire' in Flames."