“How could you do that to a man of your own blood?” roars his father, who arrived from Cuba on a dinghy propelled by two cafe umbrellas as sails. “Everyone knows! They turn on the radio, and all they hear is ‘ Traidor! traidor! traidor!’ ”
Back to Blood has plenty of moments of comedy, including scenes at a Broward assisted-living facility where the clatter of aluminum walkers on pavement signals the race is on for lemon meringue pie. But there is nothing in the novel that couldn’t happen tomorrow right outside your window. Who hasn’t heard the pathetic cry of the outraged Anglo: “SPEAK ENGLISH, YOU PATHETIC IDIOT! YOU’RE IN AMERICA NOW!” or its mocking response: “ You een Mee-ah-mee now!” Phonetically rendered accents permeate Back to Blood, and they will make you squirm. But many of them sound like home.
Wolfe has clearly tried (and failed) to find parking in Mary Brickell Village; tasted a pastelito and watched women hose down the concrete on Saturday mornings in Hialeah (“the real Little Havana”); witnessed the excruciating avarice and ignorance of greedy Art Basel fans who care less about buying important art than outbidding their competitors and making a splash.
“You’re not cutting-edge if your whole generation is dead or dying. You may be great. You may be iconic, the way Cy Twombly is, but you’re not cutting-edge,” says a disdainful art advisor who directs her clients toward the trendy works, not the lasting ones. Wolfe’s descriptions of these rich white men drooling for status is perhaps most devastating of all: “They were a wriggling, slithering, writhing, squiggling, raveling, wrestling swarm of maggots rooting over and under one another in a heedless, literally headless, frenzy to get to the dead meat.”
Back to Blood is less about character than it is about chaos, and its plot tends to wander from one extreme event to the next, from the grotesque sexuality of the Columbus Day Regatta to racially tinged violence between cops and suspects at a crack house in Overtown to a Sunny Isles strip club run by Russian gangsters. It’s big and wild, and its characters are larger than life. Whether we like this book or not, we can’t deny there’s an awful lot of us here.
Connie Ogle is The Miami Herald’s book editor.