All the exclamation marks, diacritical marks, endlessly repeating letters, onomatopoeia —
Ignore them. They were tricks, froth. What made Tom Wolfe a revolutionary and a monument (simultaneously) were hard work, and a stance.
Like a number of great writers — Dickens, Whitman, Hemingway — he came out of journalism. Unlike them, he stayed at it, observing, moving around, discovering, all his life. His first pieces were New York City observations, the kind of thing “The Talk of the Town” feature in The New Yorker was meant to present. But soon he broadened that to cars — stock cars and souped up cars — druggies in San Francisco, test pilots and astronauts, New York City again, real estate and prisons, colleges, Miami. Look, listen, write it down: That was his credo.
To all these subjects he brought a stance, symbolized (and satirized) by his dude’s outfits. He was Richmond, looking with appreciation but also a slight smile at the rest of the country. There was always a trace — minus Lost Cause nonsense and it attendant racial thuggery — of the loser saying, politely, “Well, now that you’ve won — isn’t that interesting?”
There were a few missteps: the art books which, strangely for him, never actually looked at anything; the feuds with writers who were often lesser and certainly no greater, but which showed a too tender skin. They are as forgettable as the punctuation. He had a great pair of eyes, ears and legs, and a great hand. He enriched American letters and life. R.I.P.