The Making of Toro : Bullfights, Broken Hearts, and One Author's Quest for the Acclaim He Deserves
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.
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Simon & Schuster
May 04, 2004
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Excerpt from The Making of Toro by Mark Sundeen
The news that I was to write a book about bullfighting came after a morning spent emptying tubs of human poo. You might think that in this age of talking toasters and the programmable toothbrush, science would provide a machine for this chore, but no: My only tools were gravity, scrub brush, and a garden hose. The plastic tubs were white and heavy like little ovens, cooking with the waste of twenty-five people who had just rafted for a week down the Colorado River. Beneath the seat was an opening big enough to insert your head, and on the ground where the poo had to go was a hole no wider than my fist.
Before becoming the author of an excellent but overlooked adventure book, I had considered this work filthy and dehumanizing -- beneath me, actually -- and I would have demanded that the guides clean it themselves. But events in the last year had changed my opinion. Under the name of Travis LaFrance I'd published a slim paperback about hunting for desert rodents with highly trained falcons, a brilliant little book really, not at all about birds if you could read between the lines but rather a deft song of the self in the guise of a swashbuckling how-to. Fun with Falconry is triumphant, soaked in the sauce of boyish lyricism but fried tough in a cynic's skillet. I recommend it.