20 años después
En 1987 apareció la primera novela de Tom Wolfe, La hoguera de las vanidades, que le significó el éxito inmediato. Entre las novelas que perfilan ciudades (una lista que incluiría de todos modos al Ulises de Joyce, La Habana para un infante difunto de Cabrera Infante y Conversación en la Catedral de Mario Vargas Llosa) la novela de Wolf ocupa un lugar excepcional: no sólo configuró a Nueva York sino que, incluso, lo anticipó. En The New York Times recuerdan el aniversario.
Dice la nota: "The novel tapped, to electrifying effect, a vein of anxiety that defined 1980s New York. From the moment it was published in November 1987, new episodes in the drama of the metropolis seemed to unfold like chapters in Mr. Wolfe’s story. Four white youths from Howard Beach, Queens, were already on trial for beating a black man who fled to his death in traffic on the Belt Parkway. That same month, a black teenager named Tawana Brawley, who was found smeared with feces in a garbage bag, said she had been assaulted by white men with badges, sparking a prosecution that later collapsed when it was determined that she had fabricated the story. Wall Street convulsed as its stars were investigated for white-collar crime, culminating in the 1990 securities fraud conviction of Michael R. Milken, the “junk bond king.” For much of this year, the lens of New Yorkers’ nostalgia has been trained on 1977, looking back 30 years to the blackout and looting, to the Son of Sam killings, to disco. But 1987, too, was a seminal moment for New York, then torn between new heights of wealth and decadence on Wall Street and the draining of jobs and taxpayers from the rest of the city.
Now, as Mr. Wolfe turns his attention to a new novel about immigration — set, no doubt to the disappointment of some New Yorkers and the relief of others, in Miami — the milestone of “Bonfire” provides a moment to consider how the city’s own narrative has (so far) turned out. How and why New York pulled back from the brink is a matter of as much dispute as the reaction to “Bonfire,” which became a best seller. The novel’s antihero, a cosseted WASP bond trader named Sherman McCoy, takes a wrong turn off a highway in the Bronx and blunders into a confrontation with two young black men who seem to be about to rob him — until his mistress grabs the wheel of his Mercedes and runs one of them down. Sherman, the self-styled “Master of the Universe,” at first exults in his escape from what he calls “the jungle.” But inescapably, through his own moral failings and the machinations of corrupt prosecutors, activists and journalists, he meets his downfall. To some New Yorkers, Mr. Wolfe’s satire was bitingly accurate, nailing both a racist criminal justice system and the politicians who played on white fear and minority anger for personal gain. To others, it was a cynical endorsement of racial stereotypes that did not so much critique white paranoia as cater to it. (...) “Twenty years later, the cynicism of ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ is as out of style as Tom Wolfe’s wardrobe,” proclaimed the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose counterpart in the book — Reverend Bacon — warns that he controls the burgeoning “steam” of black anger. (Mr. Sharpton, who has replaced his 1980s velour jogging ensembles with tailored suits, was taking a swipe at the white suits and spats that Mr. Wolfe religiously wears.)