One of the most-anticipated books of the year (by me at least) reached the shelves of Island Books a couple of weeks ago. We gave it a brief mention in our May newsletter, but it really deserves the full-length feature treatment. Not that it will quite get that here. Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava is one of those novels that can’t be bound in a nutshell.
There are two main narrative threads that run in parallel, one following a brilliant, football-obsessed heiress and the other a brilliant, hyper-violent criminal, both of which involve hilariously grandiose schemes. She’s trying to turn the pathetic Paterson Pork from a shambling semipro team with no fans into a gridiron juggernaut that will bring the NFL to its knees, and he’s plotting a caper that will result in riches, revenge, and the toppling of the entire New York (In)Justice Department if it doesn’t kill him first. The supporting cast includes a lovelorn EMT, a crackpot theoretical physicist, a burgeoning Joni Mitchell fan, and the world’s greatest parking lot attendant. A single paragraph from me won’t be enough to tell you how all that holds together, but if you give Sergio de la Pava your trust and 627 pages to explain himself, I promise you’ll understand.
The appearance of Lost Empress reminded me that I wrote a preview-not-review six years ago for de la Pava’s first novel. Back then he was a self-published author with big ambitions and now he’s realizing those with a successful major-label debut in hardcover. He did all the work, but it makes me feel proud too, like I placed a bet that’s paid off big.