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Back to Blood: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – January 28, 2014
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Bonfire of the Vanities (1987):
"A big, bitter, funny, craftily plotted book that grabs you by the lapels and won't let go."―New York Times Book Review
A Man in Full (1998):
"The novel contains passages as powerful and as beautiful as anything written--not merely by contemporary American novelists but by any American novelist....The book is as funny as anything Wolfe has ever written; at the same time it is also deeply, strangely affecting."―New York Times Book Review
I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004):
"Wolfe is one of the greatest literary stylists and social observers of our much observed postmodern era....A rich, wise, absorbing, and irresistible novel."―Lev Grossman, Time
About the Author
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Noone does richer social and subcultural commentary than Tom Wolfe, and this book is no exception.
The only thing that pisses me off is that Tom Wolfe is so bloody slow to bring books out. He's not getting any younger, and I wish he could examine a few more cities before he goes.
A wealthy oligarch donates paintings to a museum that names the building after him. It turns out they are fakes, and he's also been selling them on up the side. He leaves the country. The End. There's your entire story sandwiched inside of hundreds upon hundreds of meaningless pages. What an utterly poorly written novel. And, I actually enjoyed several of the author's other books.
Back to Blood catapults the reader into the political and social structure of Miami. There is little left out of this vivid painting. A WASP publisher of the Miami Herald seeks to avoid controversy at all costs. Add to the mix a young aspiring reporter, A black chief of police, a Cuban mayor, and a police officer, also Cuban, who with great consistency finds himself in the middle of two huge stories that threaten the delicate balance between all of the competing constituencies within this cosmopolitan melting pot. There is also plenty of humor, bringing back images of Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen, another Miami based novel.
With great skill, Wolfe introduces the ethnic beauty of the women of Miami who play a major role adding to the complexity of relationships as played out by the protagonist police officer Nestor Camacho. There are dozens of contemporary themes as a video of a police drug take down goes viral, a local psychiatrist specializing in pornographic addiction becomes a high-profile TV Doctor, a stunning light-skinned Haitian woman of French heritage is a love interest. Miami Art Basel and a new Miami Art Museum become a focal point in a fake painting fraud perpetuated by a Russian Oligarch and his entourage. Wolfe carefully and with great creativity brings all of these factions together in a tumultuous conclusion.
Place Back to Blood on the Christmas gift list for friends who enjoy a good read. Pick up the hard cover as any Tom Wolfe novel is worth a permanent place in a book lovers library. Luckily, Back to Blood arrived when the family was traveling and I only had my dog to offend with my face in a book for two days.
For more go to gordonsgoodreads.com
This book is well researched to give the reader some ground and realism to the area and provide scenery, if you will, for the story. So we get to experience the racial tension (Anglo, Black, Cuban) and how they see each other. Plus the art scene, money money money, and of course ... graphic sexual departures. Some might argue Wolfe's insistence to have a certain amount of edge to it. It's entertaining.
Lots of idiosyncratic characters to love and hate. Nestor the cop extraordinaire and Magdalena his gorgeous girlfriend of three years who really wants to break out of the low-middle class concrete front lawns of her upbringing and move into something glamorous. She is greatly influenced by wealth and as her psycho-porno-doctor's nurse she excuses much. Too much. She doesn't see herself for what she truly is--an expensive whore.
Nestor saves an illegal immigrant who strands himself on a high mast by "saving" him and carrying him down the mast. The illegal will be deported and therefore Nestor is branded SHUNNED by his community and family. Traitor. And this is how the story opens.
The plot twists and turns with great Wolfe weaving ... dodging and darting, weird use of punctuation (why does he do this?) but it all works. And unlike the other novels, a great compelling ending that comes about only in the last sentence. Good job, Tom. Now give up the white suits. Or at least, get over them.
Top international reviews
It's hard not to suspect this might have something to do with Wolfe's own very public spat with the literary modernists. Like his character Igor, Wolfe is an exponent of realism in an age when it's out of fashion. Like Igor, he has publicly attacked the fashionable . Is he perhaps hinting that, like Igor, he could effortlessly replicate his rivals' works, while they couldn't copy his realism?
The thing is, though, that Wolfe hasn't proved all that versatile in his fictional career. After the dazzling success of Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full he decided to turn his hand to something different in I am Charlotte Simmons. He tried to write the sort of novel his rivals excel at, set on the small canvas of a university campus, and focused on the interior life of its characters, but the result fell flat. Robbed of material suited to the satire at which he excels, he fell back on toilet humour -- literally, with a grotesque recital of the gruntings and strainings of a male undergraduate at stool.
Thankfully in Back to Blood he is back to what he does best, painting the life of an entire city, and following a wide cast of characters and the intricate ways they're connected. The protagonist is Nestor Camacho, an ambitious young cop. The child of Cuban immigrants, he sees a career in the police as his passport to acceptance by the wider community. The irony, as Wolfe gleefully describes, is that the Cubans already are the wider community of Miami, a city where immigrants are the majority. And Nestor's moment of triumph, as he saves the life of a would-be Cuban immigrant from Cuba live on TV, is also his downfall, as the man is arrested and deported, and Nestor is disowned by his own family.
That's the moment which sets everything else off in Back to Blood, which will force Nestor into an uneasy alliance with John Smith, a WASP reporter who is trying to uncover the truth aboutthe mysterious connection between Igor the artist and Sergei Korolyov, a Russian billionaire who has bought his way to the sort of social acceptance Nestor yearns for. Which will force Nestor out of his prestigious job on a police boat and onto a crime beat where he will be accused of brutality towards an African American suspect, and meet a stunning Haitian beauty.
And at the same time Nestor's old girlfriend, Magdalena, is on her own quest for acceptance, cut adrift from her Cuban immigrant roots just like Nestor. But while he is fighting to clear his name amid the crack dens of Miami, she seems on a relentless rise, with a rich new boyfriend who can take her to the most glittering parties in town.
It's the perfect canvas for Wolfe, who gets to give us a succession of the set pieces he is justly famous for: billionaires fighting like children to get the best paintings at an art sale; a police raid on a crack den; a reality TV show crew trying to start a fight at a high society party; Nestor and John Smith undercover at a lap dancing club.
This is a novel about outsiders, and their quest for acceptance. But the joke's on them, because they live in a city where everyone's an outsider, where even the privileged WASP newspaper editor is ill at ease and feels out of place. There's a scene where Nestor and John Smith are tailing Igor out of the city, and they come to a place which Nestor finds disconcerting and unfamiliar. "We've just entered a strange land...called America!" John Smith says, and then, echoing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, "We're not in Miami anymore".
America is, of course, a country founded on immigration, but Wolfe's Miami is still in the crucible, being formed, while the rest of America has stratified around it. The structures of the rest of America don't apply in this Miami, it is the city of the future.
For all its zest and fun, this is a big, serious book then, about a big, serious subject, every bit as ambitious as Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, and to a large extent Wolfe pulls it off. That his conclusions often seem at odds with current fashionable thought doesn't matter a bit. He deserves a hearing.
But Back to Blood is not without its faults. The novel starts superbly, hurling the reader in medias res, and ends on an exhilarating high with Nestor and John's newspaper investigation, which proves that even in the days of the internet, it's still possible to write classic newsroom high drama.
But, surprisingly, it sags in the middle. This is largely down to the Magdalena subplot. While Nestor remains a sympathetic character throughout his tribulations, it's harder to root for Magdalena after she callously ditches him on her very first appearance -- and at his lowest ebb too. Her new lover, Norman the sex doctor, and Maurice his billionaire patron, are deliciously grotesque at first but after a while they just become grating.
It's not till Magdalena gets involved with the Russian billionaire Sergei that her subplot picks up -- Wolfe pulls the oligarch off brilliantly, his ruthless exercise of power at once enticing and chilling.
The other problem with Back to Blood is, still more surprisingly, with its style. Wolfe is a great prose stylist: he was famous for his style long before he ever turned to fiction, back when he was a pioneer of the New Journalism.
But in Back to Blood it all seems a little too overblown, there's too much onomatopoeia, too many arch new phrases for the familiar, too many interjections from - ¡Dios mío! -- the characters' own voices, too much description, too much of everything. There are even two scenes, in the lapdancing club and on a boat, where Wolfe feels impelled to embed the beat of the music in his prose BEAT thung as if for the BEAT thung benefit of BEAT thung readers who BEAT thung have never BEAT thung been in a night club. It all gets a bit tiresome and hard to read.
Indeed, in the lapdancing club scene, there's a sentence that's so jarringly out of character for Wolfe that you read it twice: "The smile looked like a mean streak turned up at the corners". It's a great sentence, but it's more like something Raymond Chandler would have written, and it makes you suddenly aware of how, for all his brilliance, Wolfe may have become something of a prisoner of his own dazzling style. And it makes you wonder if he does have a secret studio like Igor's somewhere, after all.
Fabulous read. My only minor gripe is that it felt as if it had done its job about three quarters way through and so ran out of a bit of steam towards the end.
He does link a lot of the characters together during various plot themes with Nestor (a cop) & his soon ex girlfriend Magdalena being the main ones. She moves onto a sex psychiatrist & then a Russian art dealer but returns to Nestor for support. Through a series of high profile racial instances Nestor is suspended from the force & spends his time trying to redeem himself working with a reporter to expose an arts scam.
It's similar but not the same as A Man In Full which has a character called Conrad. He doesn't have a character as poor or as desparate as Conrad. This is best displayed in a scene when he is trying to pick up his impounded car without any money & before it shuts.
I felt it didn't drag but you need to set time aside to relax & enjoy it. If you get annoyed by the over description of people accents just skip the sounds. Back to Blood is lighter. More wham bam. Enjoy the ride!