Friday, March 1, 2013
"Speaking Volumes" in the New York Times Book Review back in November 2012, William Grimes cites Lou Diamond Phillips' performance on the audiobook of Ton Wolfe's Back to Blood as an example of a book that not only translates well in the audio format but that may even surpass the reading experience. After finishing this rambling story set in a Miami filled with refugees, descendents of refugees and immigrants from everywhere else, I have to agree. My first experience reading Wolfe was his novel Bonfire of the Vanities (which certainly didn't translate as well to the screen, mainly--in my opinion--because of miscasting).
The protagonist of this story is Nestor Camacho, a young Cuban cop thrust into the media spotlight for acts of heroism, but which left him ostracized by his own community, accused of racial bigotry, and relieved of duty. As if that weren't enough, he learns that his girlfriend Magdalena is "seeing other people." Her "other people" turns out to be her boss, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of pornography addiction, a specialty that frequently lands him on television and that opens doors to Miami high society, and he takes Magdalena along on his sleazy ride.
Wolfe transports readers to the Miami art world, into the lives of Russian oligarchs and art forgers, and the world of Haitian immigrants, some trying to pass as Anglo, and others trying to find a place in black gangs.
In the midst of these diverse multicultural characters, Wolfe also places John Smith, an Ivy League educated, driven rookie reporter who first reports the story of Nestor's brave exploits, "rescuing" a Cuban from atop a boat mast, climbing up and down using only arm strength, while holding the man by his legs. The equally WASP-ish editor of the Miami Herald also appears in the beginning and end of the tale, more as a foil than a main character.
Wolfe's characters are cleverly drawn. Magdalena, for example, is aware of her lack of knowledge and her ambiguous morality and the way she must appear to others. Nestor is lovable and defensive, intent on doing the right thing, while trying to stay out of trouble during his probationary period.
Not until the last line of the novel, though, did I realize how hearing the story, rather than reading the story held out the last little nugget of suspense until the very last word.