As you probably know, Tom Wolfe, master of the universe of writing, has a new book out–the title is I Am Charlotte Simmons (lovely title, wouldn’t you agree?).

This Charlotte plans to read Charlotte Simmons, which is set in a fictional Ivy League school, Dupont University, and is all about the culture of “hooking up,” a longstanding concern at IWF.

Charlotte Simmons hails from the backwoods of North Carolina, a brainy girl who arrives at Dupont both a virgin and a Christian. The plotline, of course, is what impact Dupont will have upon Charlotte’s values.

Since I haven’t read the book yet, I not only won’t spoil the ending for you–I can’t. But I was fascinated by the review yesterday in Book World. It was by Michael Dirda, who is a master of the universe of bookmen and possibly the best-read writer on any daily in the country.

But, tellingly, it’s Wolfe’s portrayal of Charlotte that Dirda seems to find unrealistic and beyond belief:
“Could any young woman with 1600 SATs be quite so ignorant of American life? We are to imagine that Charlotte Simmons has never seen Cosmopolitan magazine before she arrives at Dupont. But she’s read Zola’s La B’te Humaine — both in English and in French. She’s never drunk alcohol or heard girls talk dirty or imagined that her roommate might actually want to be alone with a boy on Saturday night. Don’t they have television in North Carolina? She’s shocked that at the university ’everything you say has to be ironic or sarcastic and cynical and sophisticated and sick, virulent, covered in pustules, and oozing with popped-pustular sex.’ (Hello, talked to any teens lately?) When a boy dares to ’paw’ her a little, she calls him a ’cad,’ then later grows convinced that the most panty-obsessed stud on campus must be truly in love with her. When he invites her on an overnight trip, it apparently never crosses smarty Charlotte’s mind where she’ll be sleeping. Our heroine acts, in other words, like Goody Two-Shoes, while going on and on about how ’I am Charlotte Simmons’ and that no one can bend her will.”

Okay, I Am Charlotte Stuffy–but why is it that this character is so unbelievable? No, I probably would have been trying to pose as Charlotte Sophisticate if I’d been at Dupont U, but it is nevertheless interesting to me that the very notion of innocence in a young woman has become incredible in our society. I suppose if Flaubert were writing Madame Bovary today, Emma would have had to start sleeping around much earlier, if Flaubert wanted her to be believable.