Business tycoons and blown-up egos

A MAN IN FULL: Tom Wolfe; Jonathan Cape, London; Received from Ajay Parmar and Co., Arun House, 2/25, Ansari Road, New Delhi- 110002. �20.

THERE SEEMS to be rolled into this volume more novels than one, and Tom Wolfe has thus given us a mega edition with a specialist presentation of contemporary features of present-day American society. Narrations have, therefore, a real life flavour. The reader is able to readily visualise the ways of the so-called business tycoons, who are used to revelling in high style and going about with a halo of greatness, while, in fact, all are carried with borrowed funds! Charles Croker, as the title itself suggests, is ``A man in full and strides like a colossus with wealth and power that go to make him a king in Atlanta, Georgia. A threat of disaster to his financial stability is the start of a series of problems to be faced by this big personage. All the blown-up ego of this lofty man comes hurtling down when his fancy for continual expansion leads to an unwise investment in Croker Concourse, a huge office-complex in the city's outer perimeter. Evidently, this was the last straw to break the financial camel's back.''

Having grown to a towering figure in Atlanta, Charlie is not able to take on the impending humiliation and likely bankruptcy, when suddenly confronted by the bank authorities, who manage to attach his plane with all its decorations right when he was proudly coming down with some high-ranking guests after the landing.

As pressure mounts for paying back arrears, his advisers recommend reduction in the lavish administrative expenses. A lay- off at Croker Global Foods is the first step, and the unfortunate victim of circumstances is Conrad Hensley, a hard-working, talented young person, who is nearly pushed into utter poverty rendering his wife to struggle with two kids. How much, indeed, the law can harass the poor and helpless! This is clearly brought out by the author's devoting much coverage to a series of events around Conrad. A simple offence of his in wrong parking, builds up into an unbelievably serious matter that involves him in an inadvertent ``crime''; as a result, he is forced into Santa Rita Jail, where conditions are awful. The sufferings of this quiet individual amidst the lowly criminals present there raise as much horror as pity, when we go through the lengthy detail given in the book. This horrible situation has made the author bring in nature to intervene! An unexpected earthquake occurs helping an automatic jail breaking, because a large portion of the structure is destroyed.

A book on stoic philosophy which Conrad comes across during his internment in Santa Rita, forms a turning point in the entire trend of the narrative. Conrad absorbs the new philosophy, and is virtually transformed into a fresh personality, with saintly feelings predominating, in his thoughts. Now a series of rapid events follow beginning in the jail break, then taking refuge among strange immigrants, and finally working for Carter House Care, that soon finds him transported to Charlie's Turpmtine farm house in order to attend on the businessman, now incapacitated physically following a knee operation and mentally weakened by the deep dents appearing on his financial credibility. In the course of frequent togetherness between Conrad and Croker, the latter gets converted into a stoic, he learns to suppress his ego, and develop a stoic's nature of detachment. There comes in him a dramatic realisation of the futility of clinging on to worldly possessions.

What a different person this once powerful business magnate has turned out to be. He soon discovers the hollowness in the offer of the black lawyer, Roger Too White, providing deliverance from all the pressures of creditors in exchange for his testifying in favour of Fareak Fanon, the dashing football player of Georgia Tech. There was an extreme fear that the accusation of ``date- rape'' by this black sportstar on Elizabeth, daughter of Imman Armholster, a well-established businessman from the white community, if carried to the logical legal end, might trigger off a racial riot in Atlanta, and upset the delicate balance in the racial harmony.

The developments involving ``Canon'' Fanon contribute to a sizeable part of the book. Commencing from the Freaknic procession in Piedmont, a prominent white area, and climaxing into a noisy party, it ultimately thins down to a situation where Fanon and Elizabeth get intimately associated.The writer has cleverly merged this issue with the portentous happenings to Charlie and makes the lawyer indulge in some ``horse-trading''. That Crocker, blind in his ego, nearly fell into the trap and was prepared to speak for George Tech's star player even at the risk of betraying a close friend in Armholster, only confirms what is commonly observed in actual practice; the rich and powerful cannot accept any lowering of their glory and would go to any length to retain their importance.

The author an adept in the presentation of present-day social patterns, handles three themes in this bulky book, and keeps the reader's attention riveted to pages and pages of narration. Nevertheless, there is bound to be some disappointment because the author has chosen to abandon the story of Conrad half-way, after pursuing his adventures for a considerable length. The same feeling occurs, to some extent, as we think of Charles Croker, for, what happens to him is left unsaid. Written in easy moving style and imperceptibly taking on a great deal of the ``slanguage'' of the very low in society, the book provides a real means to understand and interpret the life and behaviour of people, high and low, in a typical American city.