Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine by Tom Wolfe

Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine by Tom Wolfe

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Tom Wolfe became famous in the 1960’s for a new style of writing in which he objectively presented factual information in the form of fiction. He worked for several major newspapers and magazines and wrote “New Journalism” essays, characterizing a decade, an era, an incident, or phase of American history. Keeping his finger on the pulse of America, he intellectually surmised the mood, culture, customs, and attitudes in a precise candid unbiased manner, often humorous, always “right on”.

Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, his seventh of twelve non-fiction books, is a series of essays covering the late 60’s and early 70’s… the period Wolfe labels as the “ME Decade”. The spotlight jumps around from an apartment on Riverside Drive in New York to a Navy ship headed for the coast of North Vietnam; from the college campus at Yale to the streets of San Francisco.

This decade brought noticeable change to American culture: hippies, communes, war protests, a new middle class, the beginning of “conspicuous consumption”, and new fashion from denim to funky chic. There was a reawakening of religion and religious cults (Hare Krishna and Sun Myung Moon), and a new phenomenon “observing, studying, and doting on me”: marriage counseling and group therapy, divorce, “wife-shucking” for a younger woman, swingers and swappers, feminism and women’s lib. Tom Wolfe touches on all these with sharp perception and incredible clarity.

Wolfe gives minimal reference to government and politics but does put things in perspective when he mentions socialism. By the late 1960’s the literary elite and America’s intellectuals were crying doom and gloom- “war, revolution, imperialism, and poverty”. The general public was pushing towards socialism (welfare programs and redistribution of wealth) but hit an impasse when Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago revealed the horrors and atrocities of Russia’s socialistic policies.

And the book wouldn’t be complete without the acknowledgement of two critical issues: war and racism. One essay involves a volatile scene where a famous black athlete is contracted to do a TV advertisement for cologne… a distinguished honor since black people were rarely featured in commercials. ‘VOLATILE’ was the key word here. Another essay takes you right into the cockpit with courageous ace fighter pilots completing their missions over Vietnam.

For anyone who wants a peek into everyday American life during the “ME decade”, this book will suffice. It is full of deep truths, wildly entertaining trivia, and perhaps for some, a bit of nostalgic remembrance.

4 Stars

All contents © 2010 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved

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