“A Man in Full” Review
Following such success would be difficult, but Wolfe’s second novel, “A Man in Full,” is in some ways even better than his first. The book tells the stories of men and women across the social and racial spectrum in Atlanta in the 1990s and confronts some issues that people would rather not admit still exist.
The protagonist of the book is Charlie Croker, a Georgia Tech football star who became a real estate developer and now faces massive debts that threaten to ruin his business empire and his role as modern plantation owner.
Meanwhile, the current star of the Georgia Tech football team, Fareek “The Cannon” Fannon has been accused of raping the daughter of one of Atlanta’s richest patriarchs. Complicating the mess is that Fannon is a huge success story: a kid who escaped from the ghettos and is widely anticipated to go pro. To deal with this issue, Roger “Too White” White, an elite black attorney and old friend of the Mayor, is retained to fix the problems posed by potential race riots in the event the rape becomes public knowledge.
In true Wolfe fashion, a huge cast of supporting characters make themselves known. These range from Martha Croker, Charlie’s first wife who is desperately trying to revive her position in Atlanta society, to Raymond Peepgass, the loan officer responsible for Charlie’s debts who is trying to deal with his own divorce. Probably the most sympathetic character is Conrad Hensley, a poor white man who loses his job at Croker’s food warehouse and has a string of improbably bad luck until he winds up as Croker’s confidante.
Wolfe has not lost his touch at making the reader feel a part of the action. When Charlie finds a massive rattlesnake on his plantation and decides, in a show of incredibly stupid bravado, to grab it by hand and put it in his cage, the reader is on the edge of his seat. Similarly, after Hensley has a terrible day losing both his car and a potential job, one cannot help but feel a sense of exhilaration as he jumps the fence and then terror as the police show up.
The only downside to the book is that sometimes Wolfe’s pacing seems a little off. For example, one moment the reader is treated to a weekend retreat at Croker’s plantation and the next dealing with Hensley in prison. Although the jumping around creates a very good sense of what is going on in the city, it also can sometimes leave the reader a little confused when a character one hasn’t heard of in a few chapters all of a sudden reappears.
The novel’s real power comes from confronting the fact that there is still so much racism in America. And this is not purely confined to the South, as the novel makes clear racism against all different races and classes is very clearly an issue no matter where someone comes from originally.
Overall, I would say this book is an excellent read. It might take a little work to get into at first, but is more than worthwhile by the end.