Two novels arrive on Tuesday with big expectations; John Grisham’s  The Racketeer (RH; RH Audio and Large PrintBOT Audio) and Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood (Hachette/Little, Brown; Hachette Audio, read by Lou Diamond Phillips).

Grisham will appear on the Today Show on Tuesday. Wolfe is heralded with a full PBS documentary, Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood, airing on Friday.

The number of advance reviews is inversely proportionate to public interest. Just two have appeared for The Racketeer (see previous post), which, in libraries, has three times the holds as Back to Blood.

The latter is already piling up the reviews, with news sources pulling out their big guns, none of whom (except for People magazine’s reviewer) love it:

Ron Charles, Washington Post, 10/16:

For a few hundred pages, this circus of tribal warfare is entertaining enough …Wolfe has never been a terribly subtle writer, but he’s usually an engaging one. This time the lack of nuance is wearing, like a camp skit that drags on till long after the fire has burned out.

I suppose when you’ve paid $7 million for a manuscript, you can’t very well start tossing golden chunks of it onto the floor, but “Back to Blood” could have been much better under a stronger editorial hand.

Michiko Kakutani, NYT, 10/18:

…a soapy, gripping and sometimes glib novel that’s filled with heaps of contrivance and cartoonish antics, but that also stars two characters who attest to Mr. Wolfe’s new and improved ability to conjure fully realized people.

Many of Mr. Wolfe’s efforts to send up his subjects devolve into predictable setpieces mocking the antics of the rich to get into the most exclusive clubs or parties…

Mr. Wolfe doesn’t really seem to care if his story becomes increasingly preposterous: his aim is to serve as an entertaining tour guide to the theme park-reality show that he calls Miami.

James Wood, The New Yorker, 10/15 — Most reviews begin with the assertion that in this book, Wolfe does for Miami what he did for New York in Bonfire of the Vanities and Atlanta in A Man in Full. Wood, however, feels all three books are about the same thing:

The content and the style haven’t changed much since The Bonfire of the Vanities was published, in 1987: select your city; presume it to be a site of simmering racial and ethnic civil war, always a headline away from a riot; throw a sensational news story into the fire; and watch the various interest groups immolate themselves

Back to Blood merely confirms what we already thought we knew about that city, and fails to dramatize ordinary people within that space.

Nestor, like everyone else in the book, is simply a blaring Klaxon for Wolfe’s excitability. In the regime of the enforced exclamation mark, everyone is equal. (There are seventy-seven exclamation marks in the novel’s twenty-page prologue.)

Daniel D’Addario, The New York Observer, 10/16:

In his vaunted hyperbolic style, Mr. Wolfe blows up details of consumption and lards each one with an exclamation point; a pixelated focus on the trappings of wealth serves as a stand-in for character development.

…the plot … 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.

Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly, 10/17 — gives it a “B”: distinctively Tom Wolfe-ish that it verges on self-parody. There’s that famously overamped prose … There’s the familiar obsession with class, power, and status … And there’s the usual wide-ranging cast of characters…

Kyle Smith, People magazine (review not available online) — 3.5 of 4 stars

Wolfe strikes some chords he has play before…but the novel roars and zips along like a cigarette boat, and even at 82 the Man in White proves to be a marvelous reporter. Call this bawdy humdinger the Bonfire of the Miamians.

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