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Pyrotechnic” is probably the right term:

Even more impressive, to many critics, was “The Right Stuff,” his exhaustively reported narrative about the first American astronauts and the Mercury space program. The book, adapted into a film in 1983 with a cast that included Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid and Ed Harris, made the test pilot Chuck Yeager a cultural hero and added yet another phrase to the English language. It won the National Book Award.

At the same time, Mr. Wolfe continued to turn out a stream of essays and magazine pieces for New York, Harper’s and Esquire. His theory of literature, which he preached in print and in person and to anyone who would listen was that journalism and nonfiction had “wiped out the novel as American literature’s main event.”

After “The Right Stuff,” published in 1979, he confronted what he called “the question that rebuked every writer who had made a point of experimenting with nonfiction over the preceding 10 or 15 years: Are you merely ducking the big challenge — The Novel?”

Like his style or not, Wolfe didn’t duck.

0315_90s_twolfebook_cck_oneuseonly

Or: Bonfire, South. Wolfe/FSG.

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