A world in which no one is ever quiet is a false one; it is a stage, not a world. Miami is a big, noisy, crazy, spectatorial space, for sure; but “Back to Blood” merely confirms what we already thought we knew about that city, and fails to dramatize ordinary people within that space. So it founders both as fiction and as reportage, as the reader can test, by comparing this brassy yeller with quieter but far better novels that have drawn on intelligent research (like “Netherland” and “Lush Life,” both set in New York), or with formidable works of courageous reportage (like “Maximum City” and “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” both about life in Mumbai). Wolfe isn’t interested in ordinary life. Ordinary life is complex, contradictory, prismatic. Wolfe’s characters are never contradictory, because they have only one big emotion, and it is lust—for sex, money, power, status. His own prose is monotonous in the same way. It confuses the depiction of strength with the energy of verisimilitude. This is perhaps why he is obsessively drawn to describing enormous male physiques, which are analogues for his own exaggeration. In “Back to Blood,” we have not only the massive musclescapes of Nestor and the police chief but also those of Mr. Estevez, the teacher (“His chest bulged out against a white shirt”), and the gigantic black drug dealer, and various outsized Russians, including Sergei Korolyov (“His big powerful blood-gorged neck was shrinking . . . likewise his marvelous sculpted chest”).These giant physiques are seen by Wolfe with a combination of revulsion and admiration, a combination that characterizes his prose in general. Too often, one senses that what Wolfe imagines to be an irreverent critique of strength is actually a reverent reproduction of the same. His own writing lusts for the power he so noisily depicts. The novelist issues his status reports—on the latest cool restaurant, or the state of the gym-toned body, or the enormous mansions on Fisher Island, or the spending habits of the new Russians—in a register that is at once breathlessly mocking and breathlessly awed.
Also, too: based upon the excerpts, it looks like Wolfe has contributed to our worldwide shortage of exclamation points.