Back to Blood

9781619698154_p0_v2_s260x420I spent most of January listening to the audio book version of Tom Wolfe’s newest novel, Back to Blood, during my commute to and from work.  It was 22 hours of pure joy.

Wolfe is our modern Mark Twain, our finest satirist and journalistic chronicler of our society as it really is.  As such, it’s only fitting that my comments here take the form of an interview with myself:

Q: What did you think of the narration by Lou Diamond Phillips?

A: Amazing.  I’ll never be able to read this book without hearing his voice now.  It was perfect.  Not only did he have to do characters of both genders and all ages, but several ethnicities, and even speaking fragments of four other languages!  If there’s some kind of industry award for audio book performance, he should get the highest honor.  Listening to him work was bliss from beginning to end.

Q: Didn’t all the sex scenes bother you?  Didn’t you think they were poorly written?

A: Wolfe catches a lot of flak for these two almost contradictory criticisms, but I think they work together.  He writes his sex scenes because, first and foremost, that’s the nature of the reality he’s showing us in the mirror.  And he writes it in such a staid, clinical manner because he doesn’t want to participate in the exploitation he’s skewering.  Nobody could be aroused by his anatomically cold descriptions.  He doesn’t want you to be.

Q: Does he capture ethnic friction as well as he captures sex addiction?

A: Mostly.  There were plenty of characters that I would have loved to have heard more about, but the book was already so long, what can you do?  Still, his diverse diorama seemed as true to life as it could–making everybody human, warts and all, without resorting to character templates, though his prose is full of them; like Homer’s “wine dark sea,” he latches on to phrases and never lets them go.

One exception with the characters, though: Wolfe certainly thinks that Latin people are always saying Dios mio to themselves.

Q: Any other observations from this experience?

A: Yes.  Apparently, I spend nearly an entire day each month driving around in my car.  That’s a lot of time, and a lot of opportunity.  I don’t want to waste it on talk radio or hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the 7000th time.  I want it to be invested in worthwhile things that will change me and enrich me, energize and elevate me.  Like hearing this book did.

Final grade: A+

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