You are so right: “The Saddlebags” scene is da buttas, as Mayor Wes Jordan would say. Wolfe manages to include a wealth of perfect contemporary detail (down to the way the bank holds the “workout” meeting in a seedy conference room, with a plastic-laminate table and a dying dracaena plant in the corner–the idea being to announce to the “shithead’s” subconscious the horrible change in his status), while also staging a brutal contest of manliness. It was an inspiration for him to narrate the scene through the eyes of Raymond Peepgass, who watches meekly as Croker and Zale lock horns. Ray feels a kind of surrogate thrill as he watches Zale humiliate Croker, whose force of masculinity has always cowed Ray himself.
But what your last dispatch didn’t tell me is this: Did Wolfe’s focus on all this man-stuff actually work any new and interesting ground, or do you think it’s just a celebration of what all men supposedly feel? And … well, do they? Do you? Did your red dog bark and howl and strain at the leash?
You mentioned that novels about what it means to be a man are a rarity in our culture. Is this really true? I suspect what’s more true is that Wolfe is alone in writing about the workplace. So few writers (other than sit-com writers) find any interest, it seems, in what people do at their jobs, and then Wolfe walks in and shows these teeming anthills of passion and rivalry … It’s one of the things I like most about him. I’d like to hear more from you on this.