Lost Empress by Sergiode la Pava review a crazed American football farce

An uproarious yarn of an underdog team and its overdog owner takes in a shadowy criminal cartel, a stolen Dal and the social tensions of a nation

0330 333 6846

In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner before the start of a preseason game. The decision, he explained, was a silent protest at what he saw as a culture of police brutality, racial inequality and a systemic bias against minorities within the criminal justice system. The take the knee protest has since gone viral. It has been adopted by more than 200 players, threw the 2017 season into crisis and outraged Donald Trump, who derides the protesters as treacherous ingrates and wants them all to be fired. Previously a well-oiled bastion of monopoly capitalism (exclusively white-owned, yet disproportionately reliant on black talent), the NFL is in danger of becoming a revolutionary hotbed.

Sergio de la Pavas freewheeling Lost Empress is a novel implicitly born out of these ongoing upheavals. Boldly billing itself as a protest, the book takes hold of American football and duly hot-wires it to the national grid, so that the sparks jump across a matrix that extends from stadium sport to the prison system to a shadowy criminal cartel known as the Absence. Reading it is a little like being accosted by a brilliant conspiracy theorist on the night bus home: assuming we go with the flow and ward off the occasional moments of outright exasperation, we may just come away converted.

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Ostensibly Lost Empress spins the tale of Nina Gill, the barbed, ballsy daughter of a Texas plutocrat. Nina longs for ownership of the Dallas Cowboys but is instead bequeathed control of a hardscrabble New Jersey team called Paterson Pork, which competes in the largely defunct Indoor Football League. Undeterred, she sets out to break the NFL stranglehold, moving to poach its star players and announcing a rival 16-game season during which a mascot in a pig costume comes to blows with a mascot dressed up as a crab. The outcome, Nina explains brightly, will decide which side receives the ball first.

Kneeling in protest San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick, right, with Eric Reid. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

And yet Lost Empress is not just the yarn of an underdog team and its overdog owner. De la Pava throws open his doors to an ensemble cast, cross-cuting between players in the manner of an excitable film editor, so that the main thrust of the action is variously gatecrashed by an Italian pastor, an anguished police dispatcher and a bookish Rikers Island prisoner called Nuno DeAngeles. Stylistically, too, the book is a gumbo. There are 911 call logs, portions of hard-boiled Hollywood playscript, plus a lengthy (and presumably fictionalised) extract from the New York City Department of Corrections Inmate Rule Book. Midway through these 640 pages, the narrative picks up speed and starts to overheat. The chapters count down to zero like a doomsday clock as Nuno embarks on the trail of a lost Salvador Dal painting, reportedly squirrelled behind the security fences of his New York jail. This painting might prove to be a red herring, a gaudy Hitchcock-style MacGuffin. But it at least serves to earth the tales unstable electricity.

De la Pava, like Paterson Pork, appears to relish his role as an upstart outsider, a glorious glitch in an otherwise smooth-running machine. He works as a public defender in New Yorks criminal courts and opted to self-publish his debut novel, 2008s award-winning A Naked Singularity, after 88 literary agents had turned it down. In Lost Empress, too, he enjoys free rein. The result is a brawler, a spoiler, a broad societal farce that bounds from the sky lounge to the prison yard and apparently cant see a digressive rabbit-hole without running at it full tilt, whether that be a protracted discussion of footballs three-four defence or a close textual analysis of the songs of Joni Mitchell.

Lost Empress gives us the author as ringmaster and his characters as show ponies. No doubt a more exacting editor would have tidied the novels rougher edges. They might have fleshed out its inhabitants and closed off various avenues of inquiry, thereby ensuring a more coherent end product. But in so doing they would have risked breaking its spirit, short-circuiting the books crazed interconnectivity. Far better, on balance, to leave the thing as it is: a teeming microcosm of the American Dream and its relationship to a network of oppressive social systems. Lost Empress is zealous and unruly, jolting and uproarious; its all over the map. But what it lacks in rigour it more than makes up for in life.

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Xan Brookss The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times is published by Salt. Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava (MacLehose Press, 20). To order a copy for 17, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of 1.99.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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