days. Their Right Stuff glowed beforenthe nation.nWolfe pays the astronauts honest,ngenerous homage. But he is a stylistnfirst, and hero worship is not his style.nWe learn from him that test pilots andnastronauts were and are quite human,nand therefore they occasionally requestednearly landing times in order to hustlenover to the Officers Club for somenrighteous Drinking, to be followed bynsome-test pilot Driving, the quasi-officialnhobbies of the Brotherhood of thenRight Stuff. Occasionally one was killednin an early morning auto wreck, andnsometimes they took off in their thunderingnaircraft before their hangoversnset in, never mind wore off. The familiesnwere there, somewhere in the background,nsince in those days a respectablenmarriage, which Wolfe calls the HomenFront, was as necessary to advancementnas flight wings. They loved the strictlynLow Rent surroundings of Edwards,nthe Hollywood of flight test near Palmdale,nCalifornia, and, it seemed, everythingnschmaltzy, secondhand, andnthreadbare in life, the tacky motels andngin mills of Cocoa Beach near CapenCanaveral, as if more decorousnsurroundings would distract them fromnthe pursuit and display of their elegant,nunbelievable stuff.nWell —this is all fascinating, andnWolfe’s grinning unofficial history ofnthespace program is compelling reading.nBut yet—why did he write this book.”nTom Wolfe is a serious writer, and hendoes not write solely to titillate. What isnthe Right Stuff.” Is it the inexpressiblenquality that most men and women ofncharacter are called upon to display atncertain times in their lives, or is it justnstunt-car-racing daredevilism.” A dosenof real courage mixed with recklessness.”nIt must be the undefinable somethingnthat the stodgy Presbyterian, “Deacon”nJohn Glenn, had in common withn”Smilin’ Al” Shepard, the terror of thenCocoa Beach Strip, a quality that, contrarynto the impression Wolfe leavesnwith his emphasis on Drinking & Driv­ning, is not manifested only in the observablenside of life. But Wolfe limitsnit to that. He tells us that the hellraisersnamong the Original Seven worenBanlon shirts while mucking aroundnthe amenities of Cocoa Beach and wenrecall that the Chaser, the smoothtalkingncoach of the Ethnic CateringnService in Wolfe’s 1970 story, Mau-nMauing the Flack Catchers wore Banlonnshirts. Was Wolfe there.” How does henknow.-* It’s Tom Wolfe’s “New Journalism”nin action, of course; he’s not tellingnus how it really looked, but how itnseems to him it probably looked. Theneffect is what matters.nFor Tom Wolfe is a writer who cannwrite seriously in a rollicking sort ofnway. Even when he describes the remainsnof pilots who “augered in” orn”crunched,” burned beyond recognition,nnobody gets upset. We know he’s onlynsetting the stage for lines like: “Accident-pronenMitch Johnson kept trippingnover these cables until he found a telephone.nSure enough, the one injury henhad was a bruised shin from trippingnover a cable… Pete and Wally and Jimnabsolutely cracked up over stories likenthat. It was amazing. Great sportsnyarns!” Wolfe sketches events and circumstancesnwith appropriate similes,ncapital letters, and his eternal exclamationnpoints. He writes for tone, withnrarely a matter-of-fact sentence to betraynhis own thoughts and feelings.nThese are expressed eloquently enoughnin his settings and his moods. The astronautsndressed like dowdy middle-classersnof the fifties. Well, that is what theynwere. In Radical Chic, Leonard Bernsteinnwondered what kind of horsnd’oeuvres the Black Panthers liked.nThe effect is devastating: who, afternall, but a faddish libcult sadsack likenBernstein would have such a thought.’nWhat Tom Wolfe teaches in ThenRight Stuff, as he has in his other importantnbooks, is that appearance, style,nand taste matter. He is an observer ofnmanners, and a master of their translation.nOne knows Lennie Bernstein bynthe company he keeps, and one comesnnnto understand the less-than-saintly homenlives of the test pilots who possessednthe Right Stuff. If one astronaut comesnoff poorly in the book it is Glenn, thenDeacon, whose ostentatious religiousnessnand practiced ail-American goodguynimage imperfectly masked his consumingnambition and his smolderingnrage at not being chosen to be the firstnman in space, an honor that went tonSmilin’ Al. Today, Glenn is a complacentnSenator from Ohio. “Deke” Slayton,nwho was scratched from thenprogram due to an irregular heartbeat,na sure sign of not having the Right Stuff,nbecame its most dedicated and effectivenadministrator. Wolfe is careful to tellnus that. The Right Stuff is more, andnless, than it appears to be.nWolfe^ s latest, then, is a substantivenwork of special art. What is largely unnoticednin the chuckling reception it hasnhad among the kind of people who gotnindigestion over Radical Chic, is thatnThe Right Stuff is also tinged withnpathos. Many have thus far been heartilynentertained by Wolfe’s revelationsnabout the after-hours pastimes of thesenone-day heroes whom everybody thoughtnwere such Eagle Scout Ail-AmericannGod-fearing Protestant small-town boys.nBut few have noticed Wolfe’s subtlenreasoning that twenty years ago, thatnis what people wanted them to be. Today,nseven undivorced white males wouldnnever make the final cut.nWolfe is writing about a different age,na different America, when the RightnStuff was right by everyone, even thosenwho didn’t have it. It is neither coincidencennor fear of writing too manynpages that prompted Wolf. to limit thenbook to the flights of the Original Seven,nand those of their compatriots at Edwards,nincluding Chuck Yeager, whonretained his knighthood of the RightnStuff even after bailing out of thenNF-104. Project Mercury ended withnGordon Cooper’s flight, and NASAnhad a tough time wringing the fundingnfrom Congress for the Gemini andnApollo series, even with President Ken-n113nJanuary/February 1980n