Tom Wolfe Disservices his Character Magdalena in Back to Blood


Back to Blood, Tom Wolfe

This is the fifth book I’ve read by Tom Wolfe. His journalistic style plus stories make for great page turners. Often his books explore class, wealth, and race—quite successfully. Back to Blood explored all those and more. I’m always a little weary when a white man writes about race and tend to read with breath held. I sometimes suspect that he is “stepping back and watching and reporting on those outside his world.” Sort of like the narrator on a nature program. The other three books of his that I read, The Bonfire of the Vanities, I am Charlotte Simmons, and A Man in Full all made sense and addressed people, dialect, and intentions with respect. In Back to Blood, most of it was good, almost all of it seemed quite well thought out and reasoned, but there was a character that just didn’t make sense to me. The lovely, intelligent, first generation Cuban American, Magdalena. She’s a nurse who ends up involved in the art world, specifically Art Basel of Miami.

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The best character is the least likeable in Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full

Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full

Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full is filled with characters: most of them are unlikeable egomaniacs doing despicable things whose goal is the stereotypical American dream: power, wealth, status, and marriage. A Man in Full is like many of Wolfe’s other books: an almost unfathomable amount of story lines that finally coalesce into a strong full story. Wolfe examines the life of an obscenely wealthy land developer who owns a chain of frozen food warehouses, and how his egotism affects those around him. Simultaneously, the novel’s other major story arc is about a wealthy man’s daughter who accuses the University’s star football player of raping her. She is white and he is black.

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Charlotte Simmons, 17 Year Old College Academic, is Tom Wolfe’s Genius

Tom Wolfe, I am Charlotte Simmons

At 738 pages, Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons follows the tribulations, confusions, betrayal, failures, and successes of seventeen year old Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe also delves into the politics of fraternities, sports, bullying, racism, and poverty. And just like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe adeptly creates nearly two dozen characters that are easily remembered. He spends years researching his books to create a world that moves efficiently and realistically. His books are always page-turners, regardless of the topic. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test years ago and honestly didn’t think I would like anything else by him. I was thrown off by what I thought was a conservative republican old man who wears flamboyant white suits. But everything he writes has an objectivity and if it’s possible, simultaneously an empathy. It seems contradictory but all of his characters have accountability and reasoning. His female characters are solid—some are strong and some are just as weak and pathetic as his men. Even after reading (and loving) The Bonfire of the Vanities, I doubted Wolfe’s ability to write about a teenage girl entering college. Happily, I was wrong. He wrote so well that Charlotte stuck with me when I wasn’t reading the book and will forever be with me. I don’t even know if I like Charlotte but I understood her.

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Gifting Second-Hand Books for the Holidays

One of my favorite things to do is look for books at thrift stores. It’s a bit compulsive; I start to wonder if I’m missing out on great finds if I miss a week. The majority of books I buy are used. It’s comforting to take home a used book. Perhaps it was misunderstood by the previous owner who didn’t recognize its beauty. Or perhaps the previous owner did love it but had to donate it because of a move. Either way, there is solace in giving a new home to an old book. That is the point of books, they are whole worlds that live on despite the author, publisher, owner, and reader.

This year I started thrifting before Thanksgiving. I scored some great finds for my friends’ gifts. The holidays are about spending time with people you love and respect. Giving gifts is super fun but sometimes unintentionally induces stress over what to buy and how much to spend. Giving a clean, used book is a great present that costs less than a well drink.

I just wanted to share some great reads with the people who make my life better.

Holiday books

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Tom Wolfe Evokes Sympathy for the Unsympathetic in The Bonfire of the Vanities

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Sherman McCoy

Tom Wolfe‘s The Bonfire of the Vanities is a contemporary naturalist novel and his protagonist, Sherman McCoy, evokes feelings reminiscent to that of Vladimir Nabokov‘s Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Wolfe allows the dialogue and plot to speak for themselves, and while concrete evidence of his voice is hard to be found, the novel’s presentation of society, justice, and media direct us to Wolfe’s opinion.

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