The American Southwest as Seen by an East-Coaster
Cultures clash in Irving Weinmans darkly picaresque novel
Wolf Tones, Irving Weinmans new novel, is a big book that never stops moving. Risky and edgy, as well as literary and funny, it deals with a variety disturbing themes, like anorexia-bulimia, sexual addiction, suicide, pornography, phone sex, and the rape of nature, for starters. But these matters are treated with mature and intelligent understanding. There is moral value in the book, in the heros struggle (not always successful) to rise above his self-destructive habits and obsessions. The book is also about obligation and loyalty, not to mention love and death.
Ethan Baum is a novelist with big issues, not the least of which is writers block. To give himself a change of scene, and also in a vain effort to escape the erosion of his self-esteem, he moves to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to become involved in the academic and artistic circles of the Southwest. Anyone who has visited New Mexico will recognize the scenery in Wolf Tones. Its picture-perfect: the hot drabness of much of the city and the arresting beauty of the rural and desert landscape. A perfect place for a new beginning, if one is up to the challenge.
In Albuquerque, Ethan faces major social issues, including the degradation and abuse of Americas shrinking wilderness and the conditions of the contemporary Native American society. But he also continues to face an ongoing array of personal matters: alcoholism, the aphrodisia of risk, the touchy matter of an adulterous affair with an older woman, and a dangerous, nearly fatal oedipal rivalry with his famous and flawed father. In spite of all these road blocks, Ethan soldiers on, in his fumbling quest to heal himself by doing something right, noble, brave. He also has help from a couple of wonderful womena mother and her daughterwho both display a combination of strength and fragility.
As for Ethan, we root for him, over and over, as he falls down, over and over. We cheer for him when he stands up to ruthless businessmen, cynical environmental profiteers, and exploiters of the weak. His is the quest that makes Irving Weinmans big novel important and strong, as well as highly entertaining.
Irving Weinman was the founding director of the Key West Writers Workshop. His previous novels include Stealing Home, Virgils Ghost, Hampton Heat, and Tailors Dummy. He has also contributed stories, poems, and articles to Partisan Review, Rolling Stone, ACM, Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and The New York Times Book Review. He lives in England with the poet Judith Kazantzis.