The Pump House Gang
is a 1968 collection of essays and journalism by Tom Wolfe
. The stories in the book explored various aspects of the counterculture of the 1960s
. The most famous story in the collection, from which the book takes its name, is about Jack Macpherson
and his gang of surfers that frequented a sewage pump house at Windansea Beach
in La Jolla
The Pump House Gang
was published on the same day in 1968 as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
, Wolfe's story about the LSD
-fueled adventures of Ken Kesey
and the Merry Pranksters
. They were Wolfe's first books since The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
in 1965 which, like The Pump House Gang
, was a collection of Wolfe's non-fiction essays.
Though both books were well received and would go on to become best-sellers, of the two The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was heralded as an instant classic and would become the better-known of the two books.
All but two of the stories in the book were written in 1965 and 1966, during the ten months after the publication of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamiline Baby
. During this period Wolfe spent extensive time with many of his subjects, including Hugh Hefner
, the founder of Playboy Magazine
(who Wolfe famously compared to The Great Gatsby
); Carol Doda
, a stripper who helped popularize breast-implants; and the surfers of the pump house.
Other subjects Wolfe profiles in the book include actress Natalie Wood, the New York Hilton hotel, the visionary media-theorist Marshall McLuhan and various socialites of New York. The essays collectively tell the story of the new status symbols and lifestyles of the 1960s and how the culture was changing from the traditional social hierarchies of the time. The success of the book cemented Wolfe as one of his generation's most prominent social critics.
The stories in The Pump House Gang
are written in the style of New Journalism
that Wolfe and other writers like Joan Didion
and Gay Talese
helped to popularize. According to Time Magazine
's review of Wolfe's book:
He uses a language that explodes with comic-book words like "POW!" and "boing." His sentences are shot with ellipses, stabbed with exclamation points, or bombarded with long lists of brand names and anatomical terms. He is irritating, but he did develop a new journalistic idiom that has brought relief from standard Middle-High Journalese.
Wolfe's style was simultaneously mocked and widely imitated. In 1990 the Los Angeles Times interviewed many of the surfers who had been involved with the pump house gang. Some of the surfers claimed that Wolfe took liberties with the facts to embellish and mythologize the lifestyle of the surfers. Other members of the pump house gang believe Wolfe's characterizations were correct.
The Pump House Gang contains 15 stories:
- The Pump House Gang
- The Mid-Atlantic Man
- King of the Status Dropouts
- The Put-Together Girl
- The Noonday Underground
- The Mild Ones
- The Hair Boys
- What If He Is Right?
- Bob and Spike
- Tom Wolfe's New Book of Etiquette
- The Life & Hard Times of a Teenage London Society Girl
- The Private Game
- The Automated Hotel
- The Shockkkkkk of Recognition
- O Rotten Gotham—Sliding Down into the Behavioral Sink