James Wolcott is the cultural critic for Vanity Fair.


Southern Discomfort

Captain Maximus

by Barry Hannah

Lives of the Saints

by Nancy Lemann
After the coyote calls of Ray and The Tennis Handsome, Barry Hannah is carrying a more mellow tune in his new collection of stories, Captain Maximus. He seems to be bent over Wallace Stevens’s blue guitar, admiring his hands of rough leather as they strike “his living hi and ho.” …

Honest Floozies

Symphony for the Devil: The Rolling Stones Story

by Philip Norman

Dance with the Devil: The Rolling Stones and Their Times

by Stanley Booth
For two decades the Rolling Stones have sprawled across the sofa, bored and surly, their laps warmed by debutantes and groupies, their bloodstreams roughed up with drugs. If the Beatles have been embossed in legend as the merry ambassadors of Mod (brushed bangs and boot shine), the Stones have been …

The Secret Sharers

The Little Drummer Girl

by John le Carré
With The Little Drummer Girl, John le Carré has thrown off his winter cloak and let his limbs flex. Unlike the Smiley novels, which have a burrowing, circumspect determination, The Little Drummer Girl doesn’t read as if it were written with mittens. The book feels as if it were dashed …

Tom Wolfe’s Greatest Hits

The Purple Decades: A Reader

by Tom Wolfe
Not since Garry Wills uncorked his rather fanciful notions on the origins of the cold war in the opening pages of Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time has a book been so fatefully torpedoed by its own introduction. Subtitled “A Reader,” The Purple Decades presents an ample selection of Tom Wolfe’s writings …


Edie: An American Biography

by Jean Stein, edited with George Plimpton
For a brief spell in the mid-Sixties, Edie Sedgwick was the debutante princess of piss-elegance, an Andy Warhol “superstar” whose fashion trademark was a snowy white mink draped over a dimestore t-shirt. Edie was always abuzz with debbie enthusiasm—as Warhol himself put it, even when she was asleep, her hands …

Straw Dogs

Virginie: Her Two Lives

by John Hawkes

Sabbatical: A Romance

by John Barth
When Lao-tse wrote that “the sage is ruthless and treats the people as straw dogs,” he provided an epigraph for the cruel frivolities of John Hawkes’s and John Barth’s latest fiction, in which the hapless characters are raped, carved up, burned with cigarettes, bestialized. Characteristically, Hawkes’s novel is a solemn, …

More Kicks than Pricks

Nobody Here But Us Chickens

by Marvin Mudrick
Writers stung by criticism are seldom shy about retaliating. Hardly a month slips by without some disgruntled author coughing into his fist on “The Dick Cavett Show” and denouncing critics as whores, leeches, or—that old wheeze—eunuchs (invariably: “They like to watch because they themselves can’t Do It”). Other epithets are …

Brave New World

Easy Travel to Other Planets

by Ted Mooney
Not long after the Sex Pistols told the Queen of England to sod off in their 1977 single “God Save the Queen,” a spate of punk novels began to appear—novels featuring sneer-lipped punks in slashed clothing who pogoed in sweaty, packed clubs, engaged in knife play, and collapsed on all …