Publication date: October 23rd 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Religion is dying…but everybody still has to believe in something. It would be intolerable—you couldn’t stand it—to finally have to say to yourself, “Why keep pretending? I’m nothing but a random atom…” So, my people, that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies to unite us. All people everywhere, you have no choice but—Back to blood!
In previous works Wolfe has been prescient at capturing the zeitgeist of particular moments in American culture. The Bonfire of the Vanities first introduced us to Masters of the Universe—those vainglorious men so soaked in their own hubris, the concept of their demise was inconceivable (and apparently accurate based on the last round of financial malfeasance from Wall Street). A Man in Full covered the advent of over-leveraged, uber-consumer titans, date rape, trophy wives, and the real-estate boom while I Am Charlotte Simmons, was a depressing look at the wide world of high-end college pay-for-play athletics and the cosseting of barely literate, socially stunted but athletically gifted giants. Under each of these books is the flammable specter of race relations.
Wolfe returns with what feels like his most journalistic novel, simply because his portrayal of what is happening in America is so spot-on, it’s painful. This is a novel with volume, where virtually every character is guffawing, screeching, posing, or preening in their unquenchable need to be seen and heard. Wolfe maintains the unending barrage of noise by including the inner dialogue of many of the key characters, meaning there are no lulls or break in the narrative. All is exaggerated and volume Trumps content.
Back to Blood takes place in Miami, a city where the mayor crows
“Miami is the only city in the world, as far as I can tell—in the world—whose population is more than fifty percent recent immigrants…recent immigrants, immigrants from over the past fifty years…and that’s a hell of a thing when you think about it.”
The novel opens with a young Cuban police officer told to rescue a man clinging to the top of tall mast on a ship in Biscayne Bay. Nestor Comacho is proud of his job with the police but his actions that day, as broadcast by the media, but from very different vantage points, highlight the divide between the races and for Nestor, alienate him from his friends and family. Still, his first taste of fame is intoxicating and leads him to trust a reporter because with his support network gone
…as long as he talked to the press, he existed. Was it not so? As long as he talked to the press, he was …somewhere. Wouldn’t you say? As long as he appeared in the press he belonged in this world…
One of those abandoning Nestor is his girlfriend, Magdalena, a languorous, voluptuous Cuban beauty, who realizes that with her looks she has no need to stay with a local boy and quickly trades up to a porn-addiction psychiatrist whose flashy ways and famous, wealthy clients, as well as his ability to front her apartment and car, makes him more suitable. Later, he gives way to a Russian oligarch who’s recently donated seventy million dollars’ worth of modern art to a Miami museum. For Magdalena her looks warrant these moves despite her limited education and understanding of English.
Using a hyper-kinetic, frantic style Wolfe piles these characters, each one a perfect representation of current American culture, higher and higher until their inevitable collapse. Back to Blood encompasses issues from the insecurity of the newly arrived and newly rich against the arrogance of their beliefs in their culture as the only true one to the pomposity and pretense of the modern art world ala Miami Art Basel where “money and male combat” collide. And recording it all is the media, from cell phone videos that relay a third of the story to the highest of the low: reality television. For producer Sidney Munch,
“As I’m sure you can imagine, on television you have to create a hyper-reality before it will come across to the viewer as plain reality.”
Or to be even more clear,
“But Mr. Korolyov, how can you say this isn’t reality? All of this just happened! Once something happens, it becomes real, and once it’s real, it becomes part of reality.”
Back to Blood is mesmerizing in all its fatuous horror. There is no substance to be found, which is a testament to Wolfe’s ability to not only witness the world around him, but to record it so clearly that the reader will be titillated, dismayed, and exhausted but unable to stop reading.