Lee Klein on Back to Blood

Tom Wolfe
Back to Blood
Little Brown and Company 2012
704 pages
When the bright orange and blue cover jacket of this volume first appeared on my horizon looking out towards it rather then back towards it seemed to be to good to be true, two of the brightest quantities in the known immediate universe, Tom Wolfe and Miami together at once.    With not even a second thought, it was straight into the bouillabaisse that this volume was certain to be.
Then sequestered somewhere between somewhere and nowhere for the duration of Hurricane Sandy it was wonderful to sit down with this strong cup of café Cubana following Wolfe’s protagonist Hector Camacho as the skilled social novelist intertwined his hyperbolic sense of pop to paint motifs seamlessly flowing from chapter to chapter while the characters streamed out.
While the dapper Tom’s details are always paramount {not the least of which is a survey of social contrivance} they still remain in his best fictional works subjugate to plot flow.  For this volume the author traveled between his Park Avenue apartment and the great inter-American metropolis to take on perhaps the greatest urban tropical salad of them all.  He chose his characters accordingly both for their personal attributes and also for the racial and ethnic makeup they entailed.  So here the dramatis personae features, a Young Cuban cop, his estranged Cuban social climbing former lover, a Jewish shlocter, an African American chief of police, a Cuban mayor, a Haitian-American family dealing with issues of skin color and racial and French identity , and Russian mobsters oligarchs and painters, ecteras.
While this panalopy of characters is highly entertaining sometimes the author as he is wont to do in trying to paint people (and in so being or attempting to be a realist or impressionist painter in consonants and vowels) at times perhaps becomes highly insensitive to the negative stereotypes he might be helping to sustain.  Further, while trying to rise above he perhaps sometimes fails to realize that we have arrived at a time where the age is one where we all begin to become transparent.
This author is always best when describing the indescribable essence of a place or thing as it has never been so well described before; wether it is his take on the sky over Biscayne Bay or an army of yentas at a retirement community somewhere off of 1-95 between Miami and West Palm Beach. Then what is also remarkable about this book is sometimes this longtime precisionist gets sloppier with his details (especially in chronologizing eras and events in the art world)  but tells a very strong story despite his inevitable mortal flaws.  It is a tale that moves because his two main characters move well.   The story between them and the story of their lives and where they belong is strong.

That Miami is not an easy place for harmony to take effect is correct and another point one could flag him on is that the status one feels one feels one has obtained and who one sees oneself as is for Wolfe the defining factor of America.  However late in the game here imperceptibly our characters transcend as the African American police chief goes out on a limb for the Cuban Rookie cop seeing not his race but a fellow man in blue.  

Wolfe is always trying to be the consummate insider outside and a mimetic superstar but perhaps with his mirroring of the Haitian assimilation to united states African American culture takes it a bit too far and winds up possibly being insulting (though such occurrences probably exist the execution of it and the derogatory connotations possibly beg the author to put some thoughts and words into the other end of the conversation).
But, believe me, I loved this book, its water craft orgy, its depiction of helicopter television, journalism, its informative unwinding, its evocation of place and finally its vast scan of the ethnicity of the cosmopolis.
Lee Klein