Review

Hooking Up

by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe falls
into a special category of writer: you either love him or loathe
him. He's either a champion of the written word or a highfalutin
windbag, a member of the intelligentsia elite. HOOKING UP will do
nothing to change the mind of those on either side of this literary
Mason-Dixon.

When I first saw the title, read the blurb, I had different
expectations. After all, the term has become synonymous with
today's mating rituals among young people. Rather than a treatise
on the sexual mores of the new millennium (which comprises but one
chapter) or even a report on the "wiring of the world," HOOKING UP
is a collection of essays, both new and recycled, on myriad
topics.  

The author's premise is how modern technology, and some of the
far-sighted men who developed various aspects of it, has changed
our lives. One of the more interesting essays deals with life as
"excused" by what science has determined to be a person's
"hardwiring," preset at birth. The whole nature/nurture issue:
While you might be able to learn a lot at school, you're basically
predisposed to your maximum level of intelligence at birth. Can't
pay attention in class? Not your fault --- Attention Deficit
Disorder. Ax murderer? Not your fault --- those tendencies were
going to come out sooner or later.

Wolfe shows promise when he writes about the contributions of such
far-sighted pioneers as Teilhard de Chardin, Edmund Wilson, and
Marshall McLuhan, whose works were instrumental in shrinking our
planet to a "global village," indeed, "hooked up" by today's
technology. Where will we be in 20 years, or 50? Our children are
growing up acclimated by computers, Walkmans, MP3, cell phones ---
in fact, they feel it's part of their birthright, can't conceive of
a world without these amenities. Grandpa, you say there was a time
when there didn't used to be television? And when it first came out
it was all in black and white? Get out of town!

Wolfe breaks from the nonfiction to include a novella, "Ambush at
Fort Bragg," a somewhat overwrought (and incomplete) story of
homophobia and murder in the armed forces as uncovered by TV
journalism.

The pen is mightier than the sword, as Wolfe uses "My Three
Stooges" as a riposte against three respected authors who took a
public disliking to his latest novel, A MAN IN FULL. Rather than
let their criticism go as "they're entitled to their opinions,"
Wolfe feels the need to sharpen his claws on John Updike, John
Irving, and Norman Mailer. Such "catfighting" may be a good
exercise in venting one's spleen, but not every reader may want to
spend his money on it.

The final portion of the book is a reprint of one of Wolfe's
earliest pieces, a parody profile of William Shawn, editor of the
New Yorker magazine in the 1950s, when Wolfe was but a young
buck reporter with the New York Herald Tribune. Shawn
evidently took great umbrage at the article and sought to have it
quashed. When his protestations fell on deaf ears, he complained to
his fellow journalists, condemning Wolfe and his employers. At the
time, it caused quite a stir; today, with such outlets as "Saturday
Night Live" and National Lampoon, it all just seems
silly.

Wolfe's work in general as been somewhat disappointing since
BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, or even THE RIGHT STUFF. Whether his
comeback begins with HOOKING UP remains to be seen.

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1996-2011, Bookreporter.com. All rights reserved.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (ronk23@aol.com) on January 22, 2011

Hooking Up
by Tom Wolfe

  • Publication Date: October 12, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312420234
  • ISBN-13: 9780312420239