Back to Blood
Wolfe’s early literary triumphs have established a bar for his work: a seemingly scattershot sequence of characters and events that fall into place with a jolt, the irony of conflicting, usually self-serving behaviors and their consequences forged into a memorable tale. Back to Blood uses the same, distinctly Wolfian formula in a novel set in Miami, but the author plunges headfirst—and blithely—into the stream of consciousness of his characters to the point of absurdity.
Whether performed by editor Edward T Topping IV, Officer Nestor Camacho of the Marine Patrol, his steamy ex-girlfriend Magdalena, Haitian professor Lantier, or reporter John Smith (on the trail of Russian oligarch Sergei Korolyov), the actions that propel the novel are buried in the jumbled thoughts of primary characters immersed in self-doubt, ambition, romance, etc. If these were interesting three-dimensional characters, it might be worth the effort. The earnest Camacho is perhaps the most sympathetic in a bevy of shallow people. Wolfe chooses to portray Miami at its most frivolous, greedy and vicious, whether the wheelers and dealers who compete in ostentatious displays of wealth or the social-climbing professionals, expensively dressed crooks foisting counterfeit art on the public, insatiably party-goers reveling in sex and drugs, or the adventures of the opportunistic Magdalena, whose lush body drives even the powerful mad with the need for acquisition.
There is an air of desperation to Wolfe’s tome, an inability to edit his excesses, beginning with the chapters where Nestor’s ex-girlfriend indulges in an office romance with her new boss, Dr. Lewis, who specializes in the lucrative treatment of patients addicted to pornography (veiling his own pornographic predilections in professorial pronouncements). Magdalena’s relationships with wealthy, depraved men thrust her into the events behind the novel (yes, there is actually a plot) but is too often the easy target of Wolfe’s penchant for describing sexual fantasies ad nauseum. His fascination with the nubile female anatomy is pathetic, like a child that can’t resist his favorite treat. The novel is burdened with dirty old men wealthy enough to purchase their human sex objects. But who cares?
Back to Blood screams for an editor, if only to curtail the novel’s self-indulgence, Wolfe the Pied Piper of sexual distraction in lieu of character depth and an integrated story line. From the politically infested law enforcement establishment to the sexually-explicit orgies of coked-up celebrants to a thudding army of metal walkers on the march in a senior retirement community, the humor of human idiosyncrasy is insufficient to counter Wolfe’s over-the-hill obsession with female anatomy. This once great writer clings to the flash and glitter success has brought him, the playground of the young forever forfeit save in the imagination. Desperate, frantic and too often boring with its 600-plus pages, Back to Blood asks too much for what it delivers, the conceit of an old man envious of youth (albeit laughing all the way to the bank), a true bonfire of the vanities.