Tom Wolfe’s tour of contemporary America continues in “Back To Blood.”
Like Wolfe’s other blockbusters — The Right Stuff, Bonfire Of The Vanities, and A Man In Full — Back To Blood focuses on Men and Manhood in the big cities of modern America. Wolfe has vividly portrayed New York City and Atlanta. This time, the setting is Miami.
In Back To Blood, Wolfe writes about Real Men doing Real Work for the Right Reasons. The heroes are policemen, followed closely by newspapermen. Not a single female police officer or reporter in sight. Not exactly a politically correct portrayal of contemporary America!
Nestor Camacho is a young Cuban cop, intelligent and without guile, self-effacing and polite, god-fearing, muscular. He’s motivated by a quaint instinct to protect women and children. He’s blessed or cursed with an uncanny knack for spontaneous public heroism. Why are his feats of daring and willpower are met with public outrage? Camacho’s own family disowns him!
Then there’s the African-American police chief, a man of stature and principle, willing to risk his career to stand up to a bullying mayor. The chief’s only motivation, after a brief struggle with self-interest, is to do right by his men and the people of the city.
The policemen are archetypes of masculine strength and righteousness. The newspaper men, an editor-in-chief and a reporter, both Yalies, are weak and flawed by comparison. But they demonstrate journalistic skill and integrity in the clutch.
The bad guys in this story are really bad — mean and violent — but their main role in the morality play is as foils for our heroes. Two conspicuous villains are an Anglo psychiatrist and a Russian oligarch-gangster.
The women are the beautiful and intelligent (and innocently fickle) Magdalena, former girlfriend of Officer Camacho; and the equally beautiful and intelligent (and innocently refined) Ghislaine, Camacho’s new girlfriend. It’s a magical mystery tour of romantic twists and turns. Which girlfriend will our hero choose, and why?
Throughout, the unmeltable ethnic diversity of Miami is the unifying theme. Cuban cops and a black police chief. Affluent anglos and loutish Russian criminals. Magdalena is Cuban and Ghislaine is Haitian.
Tom Wolfe’s inimitable talent is on full display in Back To Blood. The talent holds me spellbound. But something’s missing. The main characters are all rich, or famous, or beautiful.
Where are the ordinary people, living ordinary lives? They’re in the background, part of the scenery. The female characters are eye candy. All the characters are archetypes or stereotypes. Is Wolfe saying something important here? Or is it all just another virtuoso performance, one more glittering stop on the tour? Please tell me what you think.
Tom Wolfe’s inimitable book site is here. Click Enter. You’ll see a selection of his books available as trade paperbacks. To see all his books, click on Bookshelf.
Back To Blood, latest in a line of Tom Wolfe bestsellers, published in October 2012, is 704 pages. I paid the full hardback price, $30. Money well spent. (I wouldn’t want to read 704 pages on a Kindle.)
— John Hayden
- Tom Wolfe at Miami Book Fair Interational: Even I cant sum up Miami (miamiherald.com)
- Tom Wolfe up for Bad Sex in Fiction award (thetimes.co.uk)
- Tom Wolfe’s California: In the Golden State, the great writer first chronicled the social changes that would transform America. (city-journal.org)
- Novel Review: “Back to Blood” by Tom Wolfe (songsofsirens.wordpress.com)