And I thought this past year couldn’t get any worse. After Ursula LeGuin died, then Stephen Hawking, I thought it was over…I thought there were no more heroes of mine to go.
Holy shit, was I wrong.
Tom Wolfe is dead.
Just writing that is horrifying. Those words tell of the loss of a voice and insight that we as a society desperately need. We need that voice to keep us honest, to mock our assumptions and our egos, to shine a light on the delusions and dishonesties that so often define us.
And that voice has been stilled.
I’ve been reading since I was little boy. I loved stories…I reveled in stories…I obsessed about stories…but it wasn’t until my first brush with Tom Wolfe that I truly understood just how much more a story could be. He was neither reporter nor novelist, he was the best of both. His style and wit and way with words was the genius child of those two oh-so-average parents.
Wolfe often pissed-off those people and institutions about which he wrote, and he didn’t give a damn. And that is the way it should be…the only way it could be, if the criticisms and insights are to have any value. He enjoyed the attacks of critics, and the back-and-forth spats of essay and counter-essay, as much as he did any praise or success.
I’ve talked before about why I write, about what drives me both internally and externally. I’ve also talked about those who influenced me, about Cherryh and LeGuin and Zelazny and Eddings. But the most important influences, those who taught me to say something when I write…well…they’re both gone, now.
Losing Solzhenitsyn ten years ago was hard, but at least I had one of that pair left.
Now Wolfe is gone, too, and who is there to look to? Who is there with the level of talent and insight, with the intelligence and wit, with the sheer humanity, of those two?
Raise a glass, folks. Raise a glass and toast the loss…then get your ass out there and start re-reading.