Back to Blood. By Tom Wolfe. Little, Brown; 720 pages; $30.
"In Miami, everybody hates everybody," explains a Haitian woman in "Back to Blood." Wolfe set his last three novels --"The Bonfire of the Vanities,'' "A Man in Full" and "I Am Charlotte Simmons"-- in New York, Atlanta and an East Coast university campus. Now he targets Miami, where the melting pot dear to American sentiment does not hold at all. Assimilation is reversed; Anglos, an endangered species, adopt Latin ways or turn immigrant themselves and flee up the coast.
What sex was to Sigmund Freud, status is to Wolfe: the ultimate drive. In this, his first novel in eight years, Magdalena, the girlfriend of his protagonist, Nestor Camacho, an officer with the Miami Marine Patrol, longs to escape the Cuban "ghetto of Hialeah." Magdalena dumps Nestor for Norman Lewis, a psychiatrist specializing in porn addiction with an addiction of his own: social climbing. A Haitian professor has haute ancestral aspirations -- he believes he is "essentially European" and insists his children speak French at home. A Russian oligarch and a big-shot Miami billionaire try to outmaneuver each other to spend millions on the artist du jour at Art Basel Miami. In a world where you are what you own, the right stuff turns out to be a pair of white crocodile high heels and a Ferrari 403.
The clatter of the book's pin-balling plot, stylistic tics and sheer bulk may prove too much for many readers. But Wolfe's satirical aim at the debauchery and landscape of avarice and arrogance is gleefully accurate. "One must occasionally suffer for style," the author told the Paris Review.