Journalist Lewine debuts in time-honored Hemingway fashion with a blow-by-blow look at the classical art of the bullfighter.
Refreshingly, Lewine is not out to bash the literary lion who so famously tread the corrida de toros before him. Instead, he seeks to emulate Hemingway with such faintly familiar descriptions as this one of his story’s matador hero: “Fran was 28 years old and as good-looking as any man had a right to be.” During recent bullfighting season stretching from March to September, Lewine accompanied the traveling cuadrilla (entourage) of reigning matador Francisco Rivera Ordóñez. Fran’s several forebears starred in The Sun Also Rises and The Dangerous Summer; his father died a national hero after a sensational goring in 1984. Once a “phenom,” the fighter has just separated from his wife and is still recovering from distractions that often plague the celebrity matadors, always eager to please a fickle public intent on the next young hero. Embarking with his company on a punishing road trip via minivan crisscrossing Spain, Fran performs respectably, even triumphantly in dozens of ferias (civil festivals), gaining ears and losing ears as he tries to reestablish his waning reputation. Lewine trots along in his glamorous wake, explaining in laymen’s terms the finer points of this 18th-century bloodletting ritual. Bullfighting is more art than sport, the author reminds us, since a sport contains the suspense of not knowing who will win, and the bull never wins. Lewine examines the three qualities a good matador must display—parar (to stop), mandar (to command) and templar (to avoid extremes)—and discourses on the elegant maneuvers of the muleta cape. He visits a bull-breeding ranch in Seville, introduces the peons involved in a cuadrilla and offers plenty of unflinching ringside action. His prose is workmanlike and restrained, but seldom enthralling.
Feels like more like a padded magazine article than a labor of passion.