The embarrassment of Wolfe's braggadocio—"I'm Zola's heir," or to put it in Wolfean terms, "I'm Zola's heir!!!!" —couldn't be clearer when one reads "Ambush at Fort Bragg," the novella Wolfe includes as (one supposes) proof of how great a writer he really is. The thing is as thin as gruel. Ostensibly a fictional exposé of the behind-the-scenes machinations of a network news magazine "ambushing" (via hidden microphones and cameras) a group of three soldiers whom they suspect killed a gay soldier at Fort Bragg, the story goes no deeper into the nature of news media than Broadcast News, no deeper into the military mentality than A Few Good Men, and no deeper into the psychology of homophobia than Will & Grace. The major characters are given about two traits each, and everything they do from there is totally predictable. The only good thing about the novella is Wolfe's absolutely hilarious reproduction of hicks talking about homosexuality: "That's what they ain't abaout to tale you when they's talking about gay rats and legal madge between homoseckshuls and all 'at sheeut." But even that, in the end, is distracting: you laugh like crazy over the dialogue and forget that these guys are vicious murderers. That Wolfe seems to miss this effect reveals, as much as anything else, that in the end, he's certainly not a great novelist, not a deep thinker, but a quick, witty, bitter satirist starved for attention—not Zola's heir, but H.L. Mencken's.
Hooking Up by Tom Wolfe; Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 293 pages, HARDCOVER, $25.