In Back To Blood Tom Wolfe again makes and in-depth study of a city and a culture while all the time exploring the idea of what it means to be a man. In Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full he looked at this idea from the perspective of Wall Street and Harlem and from real estate development and prisons, respectively.
Here Wolfe tackles Miami and its confluence of cultures. This time it is mostly from the perspective of a nurse and a cop. His main characters are working class people who brush up against and alter the upper echelons of the city. While the characters were engaging, Wolfe’s depictions of them as uneducated, or perhaps under-educated, sometimes seems a little over-emphasized, and a bit incongruous. At one point his nurse does not know the words ‘monograph’ or ‘treatise’, but knows ‘hypomanic’ and thinks about ‘decephalized larvae.’ She also doesn’t know what a logotherapist is despite being a psychiatric nurse. It is forgiveable, but a bit of an oversight in the writing. There are similar issues with the cop.
Wolfe’s writing, however, remians as strong as ever. I find that his prose carries me along and is easy to read. Wolfe plays with punctuation to show where characters are thinking and having an internal dialogue versus speaking out loud. I liked the offset. He does some odd repetitions of words to emphasize points. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is jarring. There may also have been one sub-plot too many. But overall, the writing is great.
His exploration of the Cuban, Russian, and Haitian communities is interesting, and knowing Wolfe’s reputation for research, probably based largely in fact. Of course, he also explores the cop subculture, which reliably appears in his novels.
One of the interesting themes that emerges from Wolfe’s works is that despite cultural differences and location changes, there are constant threads in human, and especialy masculine, behavior. It is hard to read his works without thinking about the interactions and power plays that we see every day.
I would recommend this book to people who like Tom Wolfe’s other works, people who are interested in Miami, Cubans in America, and in questions about what it means to be a man in modern society.