Mark Sundeen needed to stage a comeback. His first book was little read, rarely reviewed, and his book tour was cancelled. So when a careless big city publisher calls with an offer for a book about bullfighting, Mark assumes this is his best and last chance to follow the trajectory of his literary heroes.
To be sure, Sundeen has never been to a bullfight. He doesn't speak Spanish. He's not even a particularly good reporter. Come to think of it, he's probably one of the least qualified people to write a book about bullfighting, even in the best of circumstances. But that doesn't stop Mark Sundeen.
After squandering most of the book advance on back rent and debts, Sundeen can't afford a trip to Spain, so he settles for nearby Mexico. But the bullfighting he finds south of the border is tawdry and comical, and people seem much more interested in the concessions and sideshows. There's little of the passion and artistry and bravery that he'd hoped to employ in exhibiting his literary genius to the masses.
To compensate for his own shortcomings as an author, Sundeen invents an alter ego, Travis LaFrance, a swashbuckling adventure writer, in the tradition of his idol, Ernest Hemingway. But as his research falters, his money runs out, and the deadline approaches, Sundeen's high-minded fantasies are skewered by his second-rate reality. Eventually, Travis LaFrance steps in to take control, and our narrator goes blundering through the landscape of his own dreams and delusions, propelled solely by a preposterous, quixotic, and ultimately heartbreaking insistence that his own life story, no matter how crummy, is worth being told in the pages of Great Literature.
The Making of Toro is a unique comic classic, a hilarious poke in the ribs of self-important "literary memoirs," and also a sly, poignant tale of the hazards of trying too hard to turn real life into high art.
"My art is my life, and versa vice," proclaims Travis LaFrance, Sundeen's ever-confident, fictional alter-ego, in this amusing, chivalric tongue-in-cheek story of a writer set on acquainting everyday readers with Mexican bullfighting. After receiving little recognition for his previous book on falconry (which, as Sundeen explains, "is about birds only insomuch as the falcons serve as a metaphor for my flight toward freedom"), the author attempts to redeem himself by unveiling bullfighting's rugged, fiery ritual. The motivated yanqui (Spanglish for "Yankee") buys a one-way ticket to Mexico City, expecting to fall in love with the tradition of bullfighting, the captivating beauty of Mexican women and the splendor of one of the most acclaimed capitals of the bullfighting world. Instead, he finds grimy buildings, cybercafes and Domino's Pizza sponsored bullrings, which look more like circuses than a noble institution's holy ground. But Sundeen refuses to come to terms with a deflated dream. With each misguided attempt to find bullfighting's heart and soul, LaFrance uses a quixotic idealism to convert reality (e.g., an undercooked drumstick served in a dingy corner diner) to what could be (an exotic delicacy, served only to the most esteemed of guests). It's a skewed travelogue, in which the line between a gritty reality and a chimerical fantasy is warmly blurred. Photos.