In Back to Blood, plot is second to style. That said, the novel is technically about the divergent paths of Nestor Camacho and Magdalena Otero, a former couple, both distanced from their roots, who find themselves implicated in an art-forgery scheme. Nestor, a disgraced cop taken off his beat, is a vigilante of sorts; Magdalena, a nurse with a side job in seduction, finds herself dating an art patron, then a more prominent art patron.
But neither character’s actions are in service of the plot, which is diluted by lengthy descriptions of the Magic City’s fine restaurants and art galleries. In spite of the presence of Hollywood stars “Leon Decapito and Kanyu Reade” (yikes), the white people buttering each other up at Art Basel are more authentic than any other characters in the book. “You’re not cutting-edge if your whole generation is dead or dying,” says one art patroness. “You may be great. You may be iconic, the way Cy Twombly is, but you’re not cutting-edge.” Indeed. Meanwhile, Magdalena, squired on a man’s arm, thinks little of this. “What did iconic mean? She hadn’t the faintest idea.”
Art Basel comes midway through the book, but this tone is set much earlier. Back to Blood kicks things off with a prologue entitled “We een Mee-AH-mee Now,” a pidgin rendering of the manner in which a wealthy Latina in a Ferrari (surprised? Mr. Wolfe is!) tells off the wife of Edward T. Topping IV, the editor of the Miami Herald. “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant to the maximum, to the point of satire,” we’re told, though the satire never arrives (unless employing “Hotchkiss, Yale” as a descriptor counts as satire—which, to the Yale-educated Mr. Wolfe, it may indeed).
Topping appears in the book only briefly, but his prejudices are the author’s. By page seven, Topping is thinking to himself, “Oh, ineffable Latin dirty girls!” As smut talk, this is less imaginative than the inventively revolting descriptions of sex in I Am Charlotte Simmons, but conveying the desires of a golden-years WASP may be easier for Mr. Wolfe than doing the same for a young co-ed. Aside from the woman in the fancy car in the Mee-AH-mee parking lot, the only Latina given weight in the book is Magdalena, a beauty who flits from one man to another, whose employment as a psychiatric nurse is complicated not merely by the fact that she’s sleeping with her boss but also by the fact that she is flummoxed by any mention of talk therapy or psychiatric drugs.