Author lays Miami bare in new work

Richard Grant

SEVEN-hundred-and-twenty- two pages long, his new Back to Blood gives the grand, sweeping, satirical Tom Wolfe treatment to contemporary Miami, much as The Bonfire of the Vanities went after New York in the 1980s.

The familiar Wolfeian themes are all revisited: race, class, social striving, status anxiety, vanity, prejudice, pretension and rutting lust.

“It’s really a novel about immigration,” he says.

“That’s how it began. People would say to me, “What are you working on?” And I would say, “Well, I’m doing something on immigration.”

“I always got the same reply: “Oh, that’s so interesting.” “Never a follow-up question. “Their heads would fall forward and they would go to sleep like a horse. Hah! But I did find it interesting.”

At first, he was going to write about the Vietnamese in California. Then he discovered that the entire Greater Miami area, including the local government and police force, was now run by first- and second- generation Cuban immigrants.

“As far as I know, it’s the only city in the world where people from another country, with another language and a totally different culture, have taken over in this way,” he says.

“Invasions do the same thing. Whites, or what they call ‘Anglos’ in Miami, are down to about 10% of the population now, which is a huge change. Of course, our government created this unusual situation.

“They were letting in Cubans by the tens and hundreds of thousands to show the world what a dreadful regime it was over there under Castro. They tried to spread these Cubans around the country, but they all made a beeline for Miami.”

In Miami, he spent a lot of time with police officers, and distilled it into his leading character, Nestor Camacho.

A young, Cuban-American cop with almost superhuman physical strength, he has an unfortunate knack for igniting the city’s racial and political tensions.

“Miami is a melting pot,” Wolfe says. “The people rattle around. A lot of Russians are there now, Haitians, Nicaraguans. Miami is plan B for everyone in Latin America at this point.

“And everybody hates everybody, as my guide put it.”

Wolfe was shown around the city by a Cuban-American journalist on the Miami Herald.

Attempting to be inconspicuous, Wolfe left his white suits in the closet, and usually wore a navy blazer with khaki trousers and a tie. Nonetheless he was recognised by a bouncer at a strip club and a horde of drunken half-naked students at an orgiastic yachting regatta, who dive-bombed his boat. Both these venues furnished rich material for the book.

Wolfe also went to the crack- ravaged black slums, and the private pre-opening of Art Basel Miami Beach, the show where the billionaire collectors come to do their shopping.

For me, Wolfe is a marvellously funny, entertaining and sharp-witted social critic, and this is why his novels are so successful.

One of the problems with Back to Blood is that the status anxieties of the characters are worked so relentlessly.

It becomes tedious. One starts to wonder about the author’s own need for status affirmation. Is it unusually strong? Does this explain his wardrobe, his regal address, the pimped-out all-white car that he drives, the unconcealed delight he takes in putting down the literary competition?

Or is that all part of the provocative fun of being Tom Wolfe? – The Daily Telegraph

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