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A Man in Full


A Man in Full

"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.

Reviewed by Vern Wiessner on January 22, 2011

A Man in Full
by Tom Wolfe

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