Bonfire of the Vanities: Chapters 10-11

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Chapter 10: Saturday’s Saturnine Lunchtime

Sherman, Judy, and Campbell, spending the weekend at their Southampton, Long Island, vacation home, are having lunch at a beach club with Sherman’s parents. Sherman’s beautiful and aristocratic mother, Celeste, gently teases her husband; Campbell plays in the sand; and the ugly business of the phone call and accident seem far away. Perhaps, thinks Sherman, he and Judy should get out of the city for good.

 

Campbell interrupts to ask what her father does for a living. Sherman has trouble explaining, and Judy steps in. “Just imagine that a bond is a slice of cake, and you didn’t bake the cake, but every time you hand somebody a slice of the cake, a tiny little bit comes off, like a little crumb, and you can keep that.” Sherman is insulted by the analogy, which reveals Judy’s lack of respect for his work. They begin to quarrel, making Campbell cry. Sherman’s parents are aghast.

 

Meanwhile, Kramer and his wife dine with friends at a trendy SoHo restaurant. Trying to impress the woman his friend is dating, Kramer brags about the case against Herbert 92X. It backfires. Rather than admire Kramer as a tough, hard-boiled prosecutor, the liberal, politically correct group think Kramer is bigoted against African-Americans and Muslims.

 

Chapter 11: The Words on the Floor

Back at work on Monday, Sherman is talking on the phone to Paris, trying to close the deal on the Giscard, when he sees the headline in The City Light: honor student’s mom: cops sit on hit’n’run. Panicking, he reads the article, written by Peter Fallow, which describes Henry Lamb (falsely) as a college-bound honor student and repeats the lie that the accident was a cruel hit-and-run in the middle of Bruckner Boulevard. Quotes from Reverend Bacon portray the story as just another example of racism, insisting that if the victim had been a white boy struck down by a black driver, justice would be done.

 

Still on the phone trying to persuade the hesitant buyer to take on the Giscard, Sherman begins to lose his cool, hysterically insisting that the deal must go through right away. The buyer, Bernard Levy, senses his panic and is spooked. He hangs up saying they need more time to think. Sherman knows he’s made a fatal mistake: “On Wall Street, a frantic salesman was a dead salesman.”

 

Back in the Bronx, a jury has failed to convict a cop killer. It seemed like a fairly easy conviction—the man shot a cop while in the course of stealing a pair of Porsche sunglasses—but Bronx juries were notoriously unpredictable. Kramer sympathizes with the prosecutor, Jimmy Caughey—this is a “true piece a shit.” But then he thinks blissfully of the Girl with the Brown Lipstick. He’s meeting her for a date tonight; he’ll be away from all this. Kramer’s reverie is interrupted by a call from his boss, Bernie Fitzgibbon, head of Homicide. News reports about the Lamb case are accusing the D.A.’s office of doing nothing. The D.A., Abe Weiss, is enraged and calling for damage control. Kramer needs to work on the Lamb case now.

 

At The City Light, Peter Fallow’s story has redeemed him. His publisher, Gerald Steiner, and the managing editor, listen raptly as he talks about his visit to the projects to meet Annie Lamb. Fallow embellishes to make the experience sound scarier than it actually was. There will be a demonstration tomorrow organized by Reverend Bacon and Fallow plans to be there. Steiner is pleased. Al Vogel calls to say that Bacon is pleased with the story, too. And there has been a new development—someone down at the Motor Vehicle Bureau has come up with a list of 124 cars that fit the description.

 

Kramer has a rendezvous with the Girl with the Brown Lipstick, Shelly Thomas, at a restaurant he can’t really afford. She gratifies him by admiring the brave, manly way he stood up to Herbert 92X; he flatters her by exaggerating how important she was to the case. Gazing at her face, which glows with perfectly applied makeup, Kramer is consumed by lust.

 

Sherman meets with Maria at her apartment to discuss the case. He thinks they should talk to the police, but Maria insists that if they come forward, they’ll be cut to pieces. The boy has been sainted by the press. To come forward would be like sticking their heads into the tiger’s mouth. This is something Sherman, with his privileged background, doesn’t understand. As they talk, a gigantic man, apparently a Hasidic Jew, bursts in. He says he’s from the real estate company and that he knows the apartment is being illegally sublet. In a comical scene, the intruder sits down on an antique chair and splinters it under his great weight, and Maria chases him out of the apartment with a torrent of abuse. The incident scares Sherman half to death. What if this man is connected with the police? Maria laughs off his paranoia. She explains that her friend Germaine rents the apartment for $331, and then Maria pays Germaine $750 a month. It’s illegal, and the landlord would like nothing better than to have them evicted.

 

Analysis of Chapters 10–11

Sherman’s vanities are beginning to burn away. The truth of Judy’s cake analogy stings him. She’s right that he doesn’t create anything of value to society, nothing concrete that he can explain to his child and have her admire him for. Campbell’s friend’s father makes books—what does he make? He may be a Master of the Universe, but what will his legacy be? That’s the essence of Campbell’s innocent but important question.

 

Wolfe moves from the McCoys at the beach to the Kramers in SoHo. In this parallel scene, Kramer’s bubble is burst when his trendy liberal friends fail to be impressed by his job. The scene shows the folly of trendy liberals, who with their white guilt, insist on romanticizing hustlers like Herbert 92X as poor, tragic victims of society. This is the phenomenon that allows big-time hustlers like Reverend Bacon to get rich. 

 

The article written by the sleazy Fallow fits Bacon’s plan perfectly. Fallow distorts the facts and plays on readers’ sympathy in a way calculated to stir up a public outcry for justice. The article also states that Abe Weiss faces a stiff challenge in the upcoming election and reveals that Bacon supports his challenger. Weiss will now have no choice but to call for an investigation of the case and to find that Great White Defendant guilty as charged. Bacon and Vogel will then be able to win millions in court by suing the hospital and the driver of the car.

 

Fittingly, Sherman’s likely financial demise is presented in Chapter 11. He has blown the Giscard deal; so much for “Master of the Universe.” Sherman has led a very safe, insulated life. But it’s a jungle out there, and the wild beasts are circling. The entrance of the landlord’s agent is unsettling because it shows how easily they can get into his ivory tower. Soon everyone will (figuratively speaking) have the key to his life, and they’ll walk in boldly, shout accusations, and break the furniture. 

 

Maria may not be a very bright bulb, and she doesn’t know who Christopher Marlowe is. But that’s not important, because she has savvy that Sherman lacks. She knows how to play the game, how to fight for survival. Sherman hasn’t learned that lesson yet.

 

The explanation of the sublet apartment shows how government poverty programs are abused in New York. The rent for certain apartments is kept artificially low so that working-class people can afford them. But enterprising people like Germaine make lots of money by subletting them to rich people like Maria instead.

           

 

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