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Tom Wolfe
Back to Blood
Little, Brown / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-03631-3
Publication Date: 10-23-2012
710 Pages; $30.00
Date Reviewed:11-04-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  General Fiction  Mystery  Non-Fiction

Beneath our world, there's another; the world of gut feelings, knee-jerk reactions, snap judgments and snide comments. Unfettered, the inner world has crept into the outer, and in Tom Wolfe's 'Back to Blood,' our externalized — not actualized, mind you, but simply externalized — selves are having one hell of a good time turning the world seven kinds of ugly. Wolfe's vision of Miami and a cross-section of its inhabitants as a microcosm for the country does not bode well. But if you can stomach the creeps and learn to laugh with them rather than cringing back from them, you'll find Wolfe in fine form and an incisive if uncomfortable vivisection of where you are only when it is too late to get away.

'Back to Blood' may seem imposing and even sprawling, but the words slip by so seamlessly it feels as if you've read a book half as long. From the beginning, Wolfe puts his readers in the minds of a mixture of the craven, the depraved, the deprived and the dignified. Nestor Camacho is the dignified, muscle-bound Cuban cop at the center of a daring rescue, a civic uprising, a love triangle and a gigantic, gnarly family. His girlfriend, Magdalena, works for a psychiatrist who specializes in Internet pornography addiction, the craven Doctor Norman Lewis, who manipulates his depraved patient, billionaire Maurice Fleishman.

To Wolfe's credit, he makes even the despicable WASPs engaging with his personal grammar of inner thoughts set off against external dialogue by rows of colons. Still, his characters do manage some pretty raw pornographic internal monologues, which some readers may find off-putting, and others hilarious. But carefully, with layer after layer of intricate plot and characterization, the pieces fall together to craft a portrait of Miami at a personal, political, economic, and cultural level that is powerful and affecting. Wolfe's characters are enjoyable to read about even if they're not people you'd want in your life.

Wolfe includes lots of info-dump journalism here, building his sharpening vision of the city with its immigrant populations as a plot of revelation. He shows and tells us how the racial and political tensions play out with satire that reads all-too-close for comfort. Reality television, YouTube and the Internet help pull apart the present to knit a much less certain future.

For all its divisive visions and its intimate attention to the immaturity of an aging populace, 'Back to Blood,' has characters we truly connect with to make this complicated novel read like a thriller that moves at the speed of thought. It's a sundrenched vision of civilization shriveling around the edges, of regression in the face of unstoppable progress and the ever-present power simple honor. Tom Wolfe is just the man to take us on this tour of ourselves, to those places within our country and our minds that rarely see the light of day. Wolfe opens the door on us and hands us a mirror. We may not be what we see, or like it, but, alas, we are legion.

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