Magazine article The Spectator

Miami Vice

Magazine article The Spectator

Miami Vice

Article excerpt

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe Cape, £20, pp. 704, ISBN 9780224097277 This is an exhilarating novel. Its general gist is that in a multicultural society so-called honour often trumps virtue, political expediency frequently wins out over inconvenient truth, and comforting illusion tends to be preferable to disagreeable reality. And assimilation is very hard, especially in Miami, where the entire story is set.

The two central characters are Nestor and Magdalena, second-generation Cubans, who begin the book as a couple. Each has a diffiWolfe has very little time for modern art or for the circus of the wealthy that sustains it cult journey to its end, both have to combat monsters (Nestor literally) and both learn a little more about themselves and a lot more about the wider world as a consequence.

Magdalena, a strikingly beautiful nurse, keen to improve herself and leave the Cuban 'ghetto' (she knows it isn't quite the right word) abandons Nestor to take up with a psychiatrist who administers to (and thereby maintains the custom of) wealthy pornography addicts by, if I may so put it, inflaming their propensities. In turn, Magdalena throws him over for something even worse.

As always in Tom Wolfe, there is plenty here about sex, and the power of sex.

Nestor is a cop who wears his clothes a size too small in order to show off his musculature, and sports 'magno darkest, supremo darkest' sunglasses. In the course of his duty, showing extreme courage and herculean strength, he manages to alienate himself from his own family and 'community' (a word Wolfe subtly hints we should be wary of), and, in saving lives (two, perhaps three), to enrage the mayor with his failure to recognise ethnic sensibilities.

And boy are there ethnicities and attendant sensibilities. We are introduced to Cubans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, 'black folks', WASPS, Americanos, Jewish New Yorkers, the odd 'sullen Mexican' and Russians. None of them comes out well.

Other than Nestor, who grows wise, and Magdalena, who, like her biblical namesake, recovers her purity, the only sympathetic character is the black chief of police, Cyrus Booker (perhaps named after that ancient paragon of racial tolerance, Cyrus the Great, whose Persian empire of the sixth century BC included many different 'communities').

The plot, such as it is (don't worry, there is plenty of story to keep you wondering what happens next), revolves around one of the author's favourite targets: modern art. …

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