Framed as a backdoor exposé, Mark Sundeen’s The Making of Toro purports to tell the story of the writing of Toro, a study of Mexican bullfighting “authored” by Sundeen’s alter ego, Travis LaFrance. The idea of writing a companion piece to a book that doesn’t exist is a nice bit of postmodernism, a way of parodying a subject even as you take it on. Unfortunately, as The Making of Toro progresses, Sundeen doesn’t transcend the two-dimensionality of his joke. Rarely does he offer a true emotion to mitigate the put-on. Even when he admits his distaste for bullfighting, or describes a Mexico City bullring, three-quarters empty, bored patrons ordering food and beer as the bull is slaughtered, Sundeen fails to move beyond the realm of caricature.

Part of the problem is the bluster of Sundeen’s language, which keeps us at a distance, always aware of the artificiality of the tale. Yet even more troublesome is the sense that none of this really matters to him in any fundamental sense. “It’s Mexico,” he declares at the end of the book. “You can do whatever you want in Mexico, and as soon as you get home it’s all erased.” That may be true — although I don’t think so — but either way, it begs the question of what’s at stake.

THE MAKING OF TORO: Bullfights, Broken Hearts, and One Author’s Quest for the Acclaim He Deserves By MARK SUNDEEN | Simon & Schuster | 179 pages $21 hardcover

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