Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe
For me, Back to Blood was a bit of a slow burn. It took up until about page 350 for me to feel genuinely hooked. While this is generally inexcusable for a novel – considering most aren’t even that long to begin with – Wolfe kept me interested with his usual wit and his strength of characterization. The protagonist, Nestor Camacho, is unique and endearing in a way that most protagonists aren’t. He’s simple and unsophisticated but he’s self-aware and sweet at the same time, which makes him pretty damn lovable despite some shortcomings. Plus, he’s at the epicenter of every story line (and there are many), which never hurts.
I also liked this book for its social commentary, a classic Wolfe theme. In Back to Blood, he takes on race relations in Miami, a Herculean task for even the most accomplished authors. He handles it well, I think, (even as an old white guy) by tackling it just like he would any other issue. Mostly, the characters – from all different walks of life – do the talking (whether in English, Creole, Spanish or French).
As a journalism major, I also loved the role that John Smith, a heroic “Americano” newspaper reporter, and the Miami Herald played in the story. It was fun to see how the notion of libel and the fear of the publisher getting sued played out in the plot (I won’t say more for fear of spoiling anything).
All in all, I’d recommend this read to anyone with both an interest in Miami and a lot of time on their hands. Some knowledge of journalism and contemporary art wouldn’t hurt either, as both are a common topic of conversation throughout the story. Pretty interesting stuff.
Fulfilled “A funny book” on my 2015 Reading Challenge checklist
Little, Brown and Company
Up next? “A memoir” — The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion