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Saturday, April 12th, 2003


The Making of Toro: Bullfights, Broken Hearts, and One Author's Quest for the Acclaim He Deserves

by Mark Sundeen

A review by Georgie Lewis

"Toro pierces the heart of la fiesta brava, the soul of Mexico and Spain, and not least of all the spirit of Travis LaFrance."

Working on the principle that there's a story behind the making of every great work of art (and citing James Cameron's television documentary about the making of Titanic as case in point) Mark Sundeen sets out to document the writing of his (self-proclaimed) masterpiece Toro. He describes The Making of Toro as a "behind-the-scenes memoir of the forging of a classic. Call it a companion piece to genius."

The real Mark Sundeen, like authors Neal Pollack and Mark Leyner, casts his namesake in the central role of narrator in the hilarious satire The Making of Toro. Fictional author Mark Sundeen penned Fun with Falconry (in his words, "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.") as well as the aforementioned "classic" Toro.

Falconry and Toro star Sundeen's alter-ego Travis LaFrance, a Hemingway-esque swashbuckling hero, a man's man, a much tougher, braver, and simpler man than poor old Sundeen. LaFrance is a hilarious concoction of ultra-manly cliches and Sundeen's excuse to live a more rebellious life vicariously. The first voice, however, of The Making of Toro is that of the character Sundeen, hapless and often self-delusional, and unwittingly very, very funny.

When the fictional Sundeen is given a small advance to write about bullfighting, he leaps at the opportunity to follow in his hero Hemingway's footsteps. Unfortunately, debts and back-rent eat up most of his advance, but he manages to bunk at his parents' house in LA, read up on the art of bullfighting, and finally make his way down to Mexico City to experience the real thing (well, a close second — Madrid will have to wait until he is more flush). Perhaps Mexico isn't all he thought it was going to be, but Sundeen isn't going to let the truth stand in the way of Travis LaFrance's heroic adventure.

The Making of Toro is terribly funny. You can see how Sundeen's original success came as a columnist — his previous book Car Camping originated from a series of articles written for his self-published magazine Great God Pan — for he writes well in an intimate first person style, and his scenes in The Making of Toro have a diary-like feel. This is both a blessing and a curse, however, for although he describes his scenes with wit and detail, one doesn't get a sense of resolution at the end of the novel. It feels more like the end of a collection of essays, albeit very entertaining essays whose voice is part David Rakoff, part Benjamin Anastas, and part Travis LaFrance.

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