Review

A Man in Full

by Tom Wolfe

"Did you ever
unravel a baseball?...After you take the white horsehide cover off,
you come across a ball of white string...There's about a mile of
the stuff, once you start unraveling it, all this white
string.  Finally you get down to the core, which is
black, a small black rubber ball.  Well, that's
Atlanta.  The hard core, if we're talking politics, are
the 280,000 black folks in South Atlanta...Wrapped all around them,
like all that white string, are three million white people...So how
do those white millions deal with that small black core?"

How indeed?  Tom Wolfe concentrates that question into
the central hub around which revolve the main spokes of his new
novel, A MAN IN FULL.  Fareek "the Cannon" Fannon is a
young black football star at Georgia Tech University accused of
raping the daughter of a prominent white
businessman.  The situation has the potential to become a
racial powder keg for a city trying to cast off its antebellum past
in light of the success of the 1996 Summer Olympics and the
prominence of companies such as CNN.

Wolfe details the lives of three central characters in this
ambitious story --- Roger White II, Conrad Hensley, and the MAN IN
FULL himself, Charlie Croker.  With a mix of race, class,
politics, and corporate finance, Wolfe has fashioned a novel grand
in scope, full of insight, humor, and hard, brutal truths about
personal responsibility and redemption.

Roger White II, or Roger Too White as everyone calls him, is
enlisted to act as counsel for Fannon.  A lawyer who took
his middle-class beginnings to partner status at a local, mainly
Caucasian law firm, Roger is one of the "beige brothers," a
light-skinned African American who has turned his back on his own
history in an attempt to make it in the white legal
world.  

Charlie Croker is a Georgia Tech football legend and prominent
Atlanta real estate developer with a penchant for stamping his name
on everything.  Even on the verge of financial collapse,
Charlie is a man full of pride, full of himself, and unwilling to
accept the fact that his posh world is crumbling around
him.  Trying to keep face while attempting to salvage his
little kingdom, Charlie worries about satisfying his young second
wife.  A beautiful "boy with breasts" --- as his first
wife calls her successor --- Serena's tastes are as lavish as the
plantation, houses, and office buildings that Charlie has
amassed.

PlannersBanc, the institution that irresponsibly allowed Charlie to
build his mountain of debt to a whopping half a billion dollars, is
now trying desperately to redeem itself by calling in Charlie's
loans.  The "workout" --- a detailed financial surgery
where assets are sold off to reduce outstanding debt --- and their
subsequent attempt to attach Charlie's holdings make for a
fascinating look behind the glass and steel curtain where fortunes
are made and lost in corridors of power we rarely see.

As we follow the Croker empire west, we meet Conrad Hensley, who
works a backbreaking warehouse job in a Croker Global Foods
division in California.  When the company goes through
with a massive layoff, Conrad loses his job and his dreams of a
better life for his wife and children.  It's a bizarre
turn of events that take him from a working family man to a convict
in the space of a few days and his descent into a hellish prison
rife with racism and brutality show Wolfe at his powerful
best.

Wolfe brilliantly braids these three lives together to form a work
of passion and ambition.  Roger exemplifies a man in
search of his place on the color bar.  Charlie is an
anachronistic man trying to find a foothold in
modernity.  Conrad becomes the moral compass whose
magnetic north pulls these characters in the direction of their own
personal salvations.

The Wolfe trademark is here as well...his wit is sharp and on the
mark, from his tongue-in-cheek rap lyrics to the names of his cast
of characters.  If there is one fault with A MAN IN FULL,
it is the abrupt ending.  Wolfe seems in a hurry to wrap
things up and in doing so leaves us hungering for more; however,
the hasty denouement in no way lessens the impact of this intense
work of fiction.

A MAN IN FULL is a big book --- big in every way.  It
weighs in at a hefty 742 pages and had a first printing of 1.2
million copies.  It's a comic novel with a very serious
core or, perhaps, one could call it a serious novel laced with
comic situations.  Whatever you choose to call it, it is
a novel with lofty intent that delivers the goods.  A MAN
IN FULL turns out to be a book in full...and then some.

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

Reviewed by Vern Wiessner on January 22, 2011

A Man in Full
by Tom Wolfe

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, General Fiction
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • ISBN-10: 0553381334
  • ISBN-13: 9780553381337