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review Lost Empress

From the author of the acclaimed PENBingham Prize–winning A Naked Singularity; a shockingly hilarious novel that tackles with eual aplomb both America's most popular sport and its criminal justice systemFrom Paterson New Jersey to Rikers Island to the streets of New York City Sergio de la Pava's Lost Empress introduces readers to a cast of characters unlike any other in modern fiction dreamers and exiles immigrants and night shift workers lonel. The empress has no clothes on This was like reading a 600 page novel by a first year undergrad You know the kind he thinks he s a genius and has recently read Lacan s Wikipedia page is deeply into artisinal something or other but is bright enough that there s the chance that in ten or fifteen years time he ll be capable of looking back at his past self and being deeply and deservedly embarrassed

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Lost Empress

Y pastors and others at the fringes of society each with their own impact on the fragile universe they navigate At the story's center is Nina Gill daughter of the aging owner of the Dallas Cowboys who was instrumental in building her father's dynasty So it's a shock when her brother inherits the team and she is left with the Paterson Pork New Jersey's only Indoor Football League franchise Nina vows to take on the NFL and make the Paterson Pork pig. a naked singularity felt like a breath of fresh air to me but i knew only 40 pages into this thing that it was a pale facsimile of the stylegrace he achieved there with some sleeve worn dfw influence thrown in the witty dialogue is deeply unfunny the cerebral riffs are weightless and performative it s just not good and i m not reading 600 whatever pages of it

Sergio de la Pava ↠ 4 characters

Skin kings of America Meanwhile Nuno DeAngeles a brilliant and lethal criminal mastermind has gotten himself thrown into Rikers to commit perhaps the most audacious crime of all time With grace humor and razor sharp prose de la Pava tackles everything from Salvador Dalí Joni Mitchell psychiatric help and emergency medicine to religion the many species of love and theoretical physics as all these threads combine to count down to an epic conclusion. If you look out over the landscape and all you see is post Carver MFA stuff how I came of age in small town Indiana Sergio de la Pava is the writer for you Now as someone who got serious about his own writing due to postmetamodern fiction you might say Sergio de la Pava is the writer for me as well And hey I do enjoy A Naked Singularity a great deal However if there s one thing we all should learn from Lost Empress de la Pava s third novel and second doorstopper it s that those small town Indiana novels have a lot to teach us tooThis book has a whole host of problems problems that on the surface don t seem too dissimilar from A Naked Singularity s problems Well really I consider Singularity s shortcomings uirks than anything else Features not bugs Singularity hews so close to David Foster Wallace s super smart over caffeinated prose style it s downright shocking it sometimes feels like de la Pava is brushing up for his PhD dissertation than writing a novel its characters sometimes come off as caricatures and there are moments where de la Pava dives so far deep down the rabbit hole that not even the most intrepid bunnies will follow I m still a fan of that book though because it has a real sense of center Throughout the whole book I feel how exhausted Casi the skilled but overworked public defender is So I was perfectly happy to indulge de la Pava his tangents I knew he d bring it back to Casi who by the way is uite the memorable character In the meantime I was happy to watch de la Pava s brain work He s a smart guy after all and sometimes it s fun to just kinda listen to smart funny people talkWell de la Pava s still pretty smart so if you re worried he lost his signature sharpness by I don t know huffing airplane glue or whatever no worries there He s also pretty funny although I find the humor a lot broad here where the humor in Singularity came from his attention to his characters uirks What we lose and what his previous tome did so well is the human factor Other than the bits where Dia on her when we get into the plot raves about Joni Mitchell I don t think anyone in this book expresses a recognizable human emotion and we all know the Joni Mitchell bits are really de la Pava raving about Joni Mitchell Incidentally he reveals himself here to have broader musical tastes than the butt metal he references all over Singularity I d much rather hear a character hold forth about Joni Mitchell than Yngwie Malmsteen although both Pantera and Satriani rear their musically uninteresting heads here Pantera aside and I mean as far aside as we can put them it seems as though every character exists as a different embodiment of the various systems de la Pava wants to tell us about here Which isn t exactly the path toward compelling fictionA word on the plot Lost Empress weaves two strands together One concerns Nuno the whip smart Rikers Island inmate attempting to do about fifty novels worth of stuff while he s in there He s there to steal a piece of art and avenge his uncle s death and rail against the injustice of the system and the penal system really is unjust de la Pava s a public defender he ought to know I m also in writing group with a public defender I wonder if he s read de la Pava and debate theology and argue with the court about the Khmer Rogue and in what clearly has to be one of the great you re fucking with me aren t you moments in 21st century literature take classes with a uantum physicist who may or may not be from a mysteeeeeeeeerious alternate dimension where the New England Patriots have won a ton of fucking Super Bowls Nuno in case you haven t noticed is kind of whatever de la Pava needs him to be De la Pava doesn t seem comfortable letting him stand up and walk around and inhabit his own world the way he did with Casi No if de la Pava has a point to prove Nuno is his mouthpiece The closest we get to true humanity from him is his deep abiding love of Dia again we ll get to Dia but even then I hear a lot about their love but I don t really feel it The Nuno bits are intermittently gripping and sometimes uite funny and they do give me a lot to think about but as a fictional character he doesn t work I mean he talks like he s defending his PhD thesis in every single situation he s in and he can talk about basically any topic at great length often shutting down so called experts Don t get me wrong I have no reason to doubt that a lot of highly intelligent people end up incarcerated but there s a difference between putting a highly intelligent character in prison see Rachel Kushner s far better Mars Room for that and putting a mouthpiece for a highly intelligent author in prison The de la Pava of Lost Empress reminds me of Nicholas Mosley and Martin Amis and Ben Marcus and my one coworker who got fired in that he s the smartest guy in the room and everyone recognizes this and yet he still won t rest until he s demonstrated the fullest extent of his intelligence Like he ll happily pour you a cup of coffee but get ready for a six hour lecture on where the coffee beans grew and the differences between each variety of bean and French press vs espresso vs cold brew vs drip Reader it isn t lost on me that David Foster Wallace s weakest material often falls into this same trapThe second strand concerns one Nina who I suppose is our lost empress Her brother manages the Dallas Cowboys who in this universe are a football powerhouse comparable to well the Patriots As a result of an NFL lockout Nina takes ownership of the minor league football team Patterson Pork and moves their schedule into the fall to fill the football void Apparently Trump tried a similar trick with a minor football league in the 80s and apparently he ran them into the ground because I guess when you re rich you can just break stuff a football league a casino an entire country s notion of truth and get away with it I m not sure whether there were supposed to be parallels especially since Nina verbally barbecues a Trump stand in around page 500 She s joined on her uest by one Dia who I guess sort of has a character arc in that she gets better at her job as time goes on And also talks a lot about Joni Mitchell Dia and Nuno were an item once upon a time before Nuno ended up in Rikers Hence Nuno s deep abiding love for herI m going to hone in on the Joni Mitchell stuff because de la Pava pulled a similar trick on A Naked Singularity and it ended up being one of my favorite things about the book Whole chapters of Singularity track the boxing career of Wilfred Benitez and at first I wondered where the hell he was going with it It didn t take me long to work out that he was using Benitez as a parallel for Casi s career and well I loved that The Benitez plot sheds light on the Casi plot and it s also beautifully written Some of the best prose in that book is in the Benitez bits Some of the best prose in this book is in the Joni Mitchell bits and as a Joni Mitchell fan and a fan of writing about music in general I was certainly into them on face value But at the same point I m not sure what point de la Pava was trying to make here Who does this shed light on I m sure it s supposed to shed light on Dia but we just learn so frustratingly little about her that it doesn t ring true It reads like de la Pava got on a roll with the first nine Joni Mitchell albums and just decided to dump his thoughts out on the page because hey he dumped out his thoughts about everything elseLook I know some fans of this book might jump on me for all the Naked Singularity comparisons but de la Pava is so clearly trying to go back to that well here Except I would wager he s forgotten the big thing that worked about Singularity which was Casi We never see behind anyone s facades here Nuno is always righteously pissed off and about six or seven steps ahead of all these other idiots even his one big moment of vulnerability the moment where I thought this book would finally break into real human territory is all part of the plan don t ya know Nina is always steely eyed and condescending and determined to get ahead at the expense of everyone else Dia well I spent six hundred pages with Dia and I m not sure what she is Good at her job A fan of both metal and Joni Mitchell Come on I need than this So you might wonder why I saw this book through Well I have to admit I was curious where de la Pava was going with this If you ve read Singularity you know that it ends with a kick ass heist scene and its aftermath After a certain point I just wanted to know if I was going to get a big set piece for my troubles And I did the juxtaposition of a football game Pork vs Cowboys and I mean that isn t even a spoiler if you didn t see that coming you d best get your eyes checked with an art heist It s grippingly written no doubt about it but even then it doesn t go as deep as the end of Singularity That ending worked both because it was so fascinating to follow and because it was the logical endpoint to Casi s strange arc It has resonances this one doesn t Which is the problem of the whole book Lost Empress sketches out some of the systems that drive our life All fine and good but A Naked Singularity shows us what it s like to live under those systems And that my friends is what separates the best novels from the rest of em

10 thoughts on “Lost Empress

  1. says:

    Gazing Down the PlugholeIt takes an exceptional talent to sustain comedic prose in so many distinct voices for over 600 pages It also takes real dedication to persist in reading those 600 pages The witty ripostes the sarcastic asides the pithy literary allusions by commercial geniuses medicos with nous and self aware but larcenous offenders eventually are normalized so that the reader is thrown back to the story which frankly ain’t that

  2. says:

    Perhaps my first major noveldiscovery credited to this wonderful corner of gr is A Naked Singularity the List in that exuberant Review of mine is now fully retired ; but I credit it with introducing me to a number of wonderful gr'r's I totally stuck by de la Pava when he pub'd his HatBox of a second novel Certainly if anything can be experimental it's that one ; I doubt anyone's captured its unifying thread yetvsDanielewski's first one I

  3. says:

    The empress has no clothes on This was like reading a 600 page novel by a first year undergrad You know the kind he thinks he's a genius and has recently read Lacan's Wikipedia page is deeply into artisinal something or other but is bright enough that there's the chance that in ten or fifteen years time he'll be capable of looking back at his past self and being deeply and deservedly embarrassed

  4. says:

    a naked singularity felt like a breath of fresh air to me but i knew only 40 pages into this thing that it was a pale fac

  5. says:

    If Thomas Pynchon now 81 never pens another novel I’ll be sad grateful for his epic novels like GRAVITY’S RAINBOW and AGAINST THE DAY but content we still have Sergio de la Pava hanging around writing novels like A NAKED SINGULARITY and his latest LOST EMPRESS While he’s no Pynchon who is? de la Pava is

  6. says:

    repeat my usual plaint re the flaws of simple five star rating specifically i would break this out into sub ratings and i would give this book a five for ambition a four for creativity a two for execution and5 stars for authorial restrainti have long been out of the custom of reading maximal literary novels but i enjoyed Naked Singularity which has a loooot of the same charms and anti charms as this book and generally dig de la P

  7. says:

    If you look out over the landscape and all you see is post Carver MFA stuff “how I came of age in small town Indiana” Sergio de la Pava is the writer for you Now as someone who got serious about his own writing due to postmetamodern fiction

  8. says:

    A brilliant funny crude violent wildly inventive ensemble novel featuring an oligarch NFL owner a Rikers inmate a 911 dispatcher an EMT art thieves a genius parking garage attendant and my favorite character a sandwich deliverywoman turned fake lawyer turned into deputy commissioner of a semi pro football league This massive story is impossible to summarize It's also the best case I've read in ages for the continuing social rele

  9. says:

    Frustrating book The winding of characters and even the bones of the story are good but too many sitcom dialogues lectures and eye rolling shortcuts on development of story and of character Audible book performances were pretty good but I’m too lazy to enter that edition in here myself

  10. says:

    We Americans live in a cartoonish country cartoonish now than ever Politically speaking it’s literally represented nearly every day through Patrick Chappatte’s work in the New York Times Yet the good old US of