I met Tom Wolfe three weeks ago, and the experience couldn't have been more fulfilling. Well, that's not strictly true – he could have enthused a little more about my recent piece on the Norman Mailer colony, or congratulated me on my column on Ken Clarke's justice review – but instead he just stood there being resolutely charming and innately inscrutable. Wolfe is rather a benevolent writer, even if his obsession with status makes him initially appear otherwise, and this is a characteristic he appears to carry with him.
He asked lots of questions, and answered a few, too, although as it was, I couldn't really hear what he said as I couldn't take my eyes off his white suit, the trademark outfit he's worn on and off for some 50 years. The great man has shrunk a little recently, and the suit in question hung off him like a well designed poncho.
Wolfe still has a halo around him, still has a presence that can quieten a room when he walks into it. He has such an air of quiet confidence, coupled with such a huge sense of entitlement, that many (still) mistake this for arrogance. Yes, he has a tremendous sense of what constitutes society, a great wit, and the remnants of that famous fringe, but above all he has a keen interest.
His new novel, Back To Blood, isn't due until 2012, although knowing Wolfe's adherence to deadlines, this is almost certainly just a fiction. He told me it would be his own blood that would be spilt if it was published then, but who knows. Two years ago he fell out with his longtime publishers Farrar, Strauss, moving to Little, Brown. According to his new custodians, Wolfe's fourth novel is about "Class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption and ambition in Miami, the city where America's future has arrived first."
Will it be any good? Well, remember what Joe David Bellamy wrote in his introduction to Wolfe's The Purple Decades: "If Tom Wolfe sometimes interprets the American scene with the apparent attachment and freedom from constraints of a visiting Martian, he remains a Martian with an enviable sense of humour, energy, and playfulness." Oh, and a thoroughly incorruptible white suit.
Dylan Jones is the editor of GQReuse content