Dupont University ' the Olympian halls of learning housing the cream of America ' s youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition ' Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a wide-eyed, bookish freshman from a strict, devout, poor and poorly educated family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, Cool, and kegs trump her towering academic ambitions every time.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
August 11, 2005
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Excerpt from I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
Alleghany County is perched so high up in the hills of western North Carolina that golfers intrepid enough to go up there to play golf call it mountain golf. The county's only big cash crop is Christmas trees, Fraser firs mostly, and the main manufacturing that goes on is building houses for summer people. In the entire county, there is only one town. It is called Sparta.
The summer people are attracted by the primeval beauty of the New River, which forms the county's western boundary. Primeval is precisely the word for it. Paleontologists reckon that the New River is one of the two or three oldest rivers in the world. According to local lore, it is called New because the first white man to lay eyes on it was Thomas Jefferson's cousin Peter, and to him its very existence was news. He was leading a team of surveyors up to the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which form part of the Continental Divide. He reached the top, looked down the other side, and saw the same breathtaking sight that enchants outdoorsy outlanders today: a wide, absolutely clear mountain stream flanked by dense, deep green stands of virgin forest set against the immense ashy backdrop of the Blue Ridge, which from a distance really does look blue.
Not all that long ago the mountains were a wall that cut Alleghany County off from people in the rest of North Carolina so completely, they called it the Lost Province, when they thought of it at all. Modern highways have made the county accessible, but an air of remoteness, an atmosphere primeval, remains, and that is what the summer people, the campers, the canoers, the fishers, hunters, golfers, and mountain crafts shoppers love about it. There is no mall, no movie house, and not one stockbroker. To the people who lived in Sparta, the term ambition didn't conjure up a picture of hard-driving, hard-grabbing businessmen in dull suits and "interesting" neckties the way it did in Charlotte or Raleigh. Families with children who were juniors or seniors in the one high school, Alleghany High, didn't get caught up in college mania the way families in the urban areas did ' college mania being the ferocious, all-consuming compulsion to get one's offspring into prestigious universities. What parents in Sparta would even aspire to having a son or daughter go to a university like Dupont Probably none. In fact, when word got out that a senior at the high school, a girl named Charlotte Simmons, would be going to Dupont in the fall, it was front-page news in The Alleghany News, the weekly newspaper.