Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe - review

by gabeatkinson / 20 December, 2012
An unflinching look into America’s racial vortex!!!! Yesssssss? Nooooooo.
Back to BloodWe een Mee-AH-mee Now!” So scream the first words of Back to Blood, Tom Wolfe’s latest CAPS-LOCKED! exclamation pointed! damnably-SHOUTY! attempt to take America’s thready pulse. Buried deep in its 700 pages is where Wolfe gives the whole game away: “In Miami, everybody hates everybody.”

Wolfe’s method – and his madness – hasn’t changed much since The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) and A Man in Full (1998). His Miami – like his New York and Atlanta – isn’t a melting pot but a boiling cauldron of racial, ethnic and class tension some Candide will obligingly fall into. This time out, our holy fool is Nestor Camacho, a good-natured but implausibly dim second-generation Cuban-American police offier. At least, he is until the “Yale-marinated” guilty white liberal media and a rainbow coalition of hucksters straight out of 1970’s Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers go to work.

Magdalena, the love of Nestor’s life, is undone by sex, not racial politics. Although not a professional like her namesake, she is determined to climb the social ladder by screwing her way down the evolutionary one to a Russian oligarch involved in a massive art fraud.

There’s a lot more plot, and an endless, and enervating, parade of ethnic caricatures all bellowing “Everybody hates everybody! BACK TO BLOOD!” at the top of their voices. Seven hundred pages of crack dens, orgies on super-yachts, hustlers at work from City Hall to the hilariously pretentious Miami Art Basel Fair, and what’s left? Detailed, on-scene, high-energy reporting! An unflinching look into America’s racial vortex!!!! Yesssssss?

Nooooooo. But by the time our Hispanic Candide and Cunégonde are reunited, sadder but no wiser in the worst of all possible worlds, I was more confused than enraged. Strip away the flash and filigree, and nothing is left but the literary equivalent of a talkback radio host simultaneously having a prurient orgasm and a stroke over the scary immigrants and dirty sex.

Illiberal and even downright noxious political and social opinions aren’t necessarily fatal in a novelist, as Wolfe’s beloved Balzac – a highly conservative royalist with Karl Marx among his fans – showed. But it’s sad to see a man who once pronounced that the American novel is “dying of anorexia” dishing up a stodgy pudding of empty calories and high-fructose corn syrup. The spicy satirising of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965) has degenerated into rancid Miami tripe.

BACK TO BLOOD, by Tom Wolfe (Jonathan Cape, $37.99).

Craig Ranapia writes the culture blog Muse at Public Address.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


A post-mortem on Todd Barclay and Matt McCarten's fiascos
76497 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Politics

A post-mortem on Todd Barclay and Matt McCarten's …

by Jane Clifton

In the catalogue of disaster, is a Todd Barclay worse than a Matt McCarten?

Read more
The Trump family's Kremlin connection
76655 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z World

The Trump family's Kremlin connection

by Paul Thomas

From “nothing to see here” to a Cold War-era spy story played out in real life, the Trump family’s Kremlin connection is a source of fascination.

Read more
The Journey – movie review
76661 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

The Journey – movie review

by James Robins

A van isn’t a great vehicle for a drama on how old enemies ended the Troubles.

Read more
Gaylene Preston on the difficulties of filming at the United Nations
76664 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Gaylene Preston on the difficulties of filming at …

by David Larsen

Tracking Helen Clark’s tilt for the top job at the United Nations, Gaylene Preston documented the creatures of the diplomatic world.

Read more
Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland Road
76815 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland…

by Russell Baillie

Best known for her comedy roles, Jackie van Beek takes a dramatic detour in her feature-directing debut.

Read more
Parisian Neckwear plays the long game, even as its centenary approaches
76427 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Small business

Parisian Neckwear plays the long game, even as its…

by Rob O'Neill

Parisian Neckwear, founded in 1919, has survived depression, war, deregulation and a deluge of cheap imports. How? Just feel the cloth.

Read more
David Tamihere case: Key witnesses' doubts about murder of Swedish tourists
76738 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z Crime

David Tamihere case: Key witnesses' doubts about m…

by Donna Chisholm

Nearly 30 years after young Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen disappeared in the Coromandel key witnesses say the mystery haunts them.

Read more
Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and human exploitation collide
76728 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and huma…

by The Conversation

With the advent of orphanage tourism, travellers think they're doing good. But they can often just be lining the pockets of the orphanages' owners.

Read more