Sunday, March 22, 2015

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 27

Here’s my book review of Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe.

In his novel Back to Blood, Tom Wolfe savages urban American morality, or lack thereof, by focusing on the melting pot of Miami. In this city there are more recent immigrants than anywhere else. The races cohabit and wheel and deal, but they mix hardly at all. As one of his characters quips, everybody hates everybody.

Wolfe's main character here is Nestor Camacho, a roguish cop of Cuban ancestry who, like so many of his neighbors in Hialeah, barely speaks a word of Spanish. In many ways, Camacho is a hero, often in spite of himself. His good heart and fierce sense of duty carry him into dangerous situations, intrigues, and trouble with his superiors. The driving force of a subplot about a colossal art forgery is preppie newspaperman John Smith, who is also a rogue, and also prone to find all kinds of trouble, much of it newsworthy. And most of the truths he uncovers are inconvenient both for his media bosses and for the mob-style rulers of the social order.

This book shows a lot of skin, as they say. Situations are weird or gross, or both. Wolfe reveals himself to be a dirty old man with a massive vocabulary who will titillate you until you have way too much information. We are self-seeking animals, he seems to say, and most of our decisions and actions are motivated by our most basic desires.

Tom Wolfe's literary predecessor could well be the nineteenth-century French satirist Honoré de Balzac, who was so alike in his low opinion of human nature and exploitation of its foibles. At heart, Wolfe is a curmudgeonly moralist. Society, he seems to be saying, still needs cops and journalists, who can occasionally be heroes, if they dare to break the rules.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of Mr. Ballpoint. Catch these podcasts at More than 30 of these book reviews and author readings are available for download or streaming (for free) from iTunes or Feedburner.

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