BACK TO BLOOD. Tom Wolfe. Little, Brown and Co. 704 pages. $30.
“Huge huge huge brilliant brilliant brilliant lurid lurid lurid.” Now don’t be alarmed; that’s not the reviewer. That’s the provocateur-legend Tom Wolfe describing the neon sign for the Honey Pot strip club. Or how about “AhhggghHAHAHHHHock hock hock hockdjou,” his onomatopoeic rendition of a character’s hacking laugh.
This is what you’re in for opening “Back to Blood,” the latest carving up of American culture by the author of groundswell books such as “The Right Stuff,” “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”
Check your serious face at the door. This is lampoon: over-the-top fun with the boiling unrest of cultures in the unmelting pot of social caste Miami.
There are A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS in this book. Say, for instance: “BEAT thung BEAT thung BEAT thung BEAT thung BEAT thung BEAT thung” replicating lurid music booming from the loud speakers during a yacht club regatta that devolves deck to deck into an offshore orgy.
Wolfe burst into popular conscience in the 1960s with New Journalism classics such as the “Acid Test.”
No sooner did he become an established anti-establishment figurehead then he turned to produce classics like “The Right Stuff,” the real-people account of NASA astronauts that knocked vaunted James Michener’s “Space” clean off the literary shelf. Then Wolfe wrote “From Bauhaus to Our House,” putting the thumb tacks to malformed 20th-century architecture.
So give him slack. “The Bonfire of the Vanities” had good passages and tedious stretches, “A Man in Full” was less than that and “I Am Charlotte Simmons” a sometimes brilliant but long-winded, not-quite-nailed-down satire of conflicted North Carolina folk and academic cultures. Heck, Clyde Edgerton did it better if far less edgier in “Raney.”
But when Wolfe is good, he is very good. “Back to Blood” reels out of control from the interplay of two young, star-crossed Cuban lovers and their body slams into various Miami cultural walls. One is a policeman who wants nothing more than to be respected by his family and community; one a darting socialite wannabe who wants nothing more than to shed both.
To be sure, there’s some wading to get through this tall tale. But there’s also some real scene gobbling going on, and an ending that packs a hyperbolic punch.
If you want onboard, grab the Dramamine: “And every time a boat rocked, usually thanks to the rolling wakes of speed boats, the bottles and beer cans would roll across the deck ... the beer cans with a cheap junky aluminum rattle ... the bottles with a cheap junky hollow moan ... rolled rolled rolled over the flat garbage, the stamped out cigarettes, the cheap plastic beads, the spilt-beer slicks, the used condoms, the puke fritters.”
Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter at The Post and Courier.