“The Master of the Universe stood up and managed to hold on to the leash and struggle into his raincoat. It was a worn but formidable rubberized British riding mac, full of flaps, straps, and buckles. He had bought it at Knoud on Madison Avenue. Once, he had considered its aged look as just the thing, after the fashion of the Boston Cracked Shoe look. Now he wondered.” – Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities.
As someone who at least attempts to be a writer, reading Wolfe is a cruel game. His passages at once show the possibilities of the English language and act as a constant reminder that I’ll never achieve such dexterity over the written word. All that aside though, Wolfe’s 1987 assessment on life in the evolving big city, is rife with passages such as the one above.
As Bonfire of the Vanities cuts across New York’s avenues and alleyways, Wolfe drops bread crumbs along the trail, leading the reader back down the rabbit hole to a fading era of this city. I’d like to believe that Wolfe was well aware of the fleeting nature of New York and its many establishments when he wrote this book, as he lines the pages with references to storefronts, restaurants, and even landmarks that no longer exist. Wolfe’s work is that of a written time capsule in a way, which brings me back to Knoud on Madison.