Tom Wolfe never met a culture clash he didn’t like. Whether he’s cataloging the social strata of Wall Street (The Bonfire of the Vanities), slicing and dicing race, money and morals in the New South (A Man in Full) or studying the mating rituals of college students (I Am Charlotte Simmons), this unlikely reporter in the unsullied white suit excels at creating fiction from friction.
In Back to Blood, his first novel in seven years, Wolfe embraces yet another multicultural zeitgeist, this one in Miami, a mélange of displaced dreamers and brazen schemers worthy of his hyper-punctuated prose.
The “blood” of the title refers to bloodlines, which in Wolfe’s tale serve as an innate GPS by which his diverse characters attempt to navigate a New World urban jungle overflowing with immigrant fever dreams. Forget melting pot; Miami here most resembles an upset stomach after the early bird buffet.
Our Everyman on this jet-boat ride through the Big Orange is novice Miami police officer Nestor Camacho, a buff yet tender Cuban-American who wants nothing more than to ditch the baggage of his heritage, win over his anglo superiors and live the American dream. When his daring rush-hour maritime rescue of a Cuban refugee backfires, Nestor winds up on probation, an outcast from his Cuban elders and fair game for an enterprising young investigative reporter who shares his career goals.
Their ensuing adventure pings like a pinball through an extended cast of Miami archetypes: the upwardly mobile Haitian professor, the ex-Noo Yawk “active adults,” the sex-addicted billionaire, the psychiatrist and his Latin arm candy, the arrogant Cuban mayor, the goodhearted black police chief and the Russian con men with bogus art for sale.
While we’ve met these characters before in the works of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey, not to mention on “Miami Vice” and “The Golden Girls,” Wolfe’s omniscient narration attempts to give them substance by taking us inside their minds, where their hopes and dreams make a cockeyed kind of sense.
Despite its 700-odd pages, Back to Blood is a surprisingly swift if sometimes dodgy reading experience, owing to the extended cast and plot lines involved. But those who have never experienced Wolfe’s hyperkinetic narrative style will behold within these pages ample measure of the man in full.