This book started off for me as a really enjoyable, but slow-moving trainride. A kind of lurching start with several pages of courtroom dialog. In fact a large percentage of this novel is nothing but back and forth dialog, often with no specific indication of who is talking (except how the characters are created). In fact large sections of this novel are even courtroom documents.
The premise of this novel is kind of a heist book, which it is, but also a courtroom drama, which it is, but also a treatise on boxing, which it is. It’s also really funny.
The bulk takes place centered on Casi, a child of Colombian immigrants who is a hotshot, undefeated public defender. Something about his skill, orientation, and attitude give him an edge in defending the lowliest of lowly figures in the New York City criminal justice system. But because the system is corrupt, asinine, and inefficient, his efforts are often useless or futile because he’s not making an changes to the system and half the time the very figures he’s helping to get off, get themselves right back into trouble (through their own fault or not).
It’s a funny and depressingly sad novel. It’s complex and exciting, and at times drags. It’s a novel that every single thing in it is good and even sometimes great, but not everything here belongs here. There’s a solid 40 pages on the middleweight boxing ranks of the 1970s and 80s as an extended metaphor for the main character. It doesn’t quote work, but it’s great as it’s trying to work.
That’s how the novel often feels….like a kind of shambling gravitational being that is pulling and attracting elements, writing styles, and other features together to create the novel we have. And because the locus of the novel is the black hole the title reminds us of, it’s hard to decide if any of it matters. But’s it’s exciting and often laugh out loud. But it’s also often a horrific true life dystopia.
It’s challenging a lot of time, trying patience more than intellect, and so be warned, but don’t be put off by the comparisons to Coover, Pynchon, and Gaddis. While they share a sensibility the writing is not of the same ilk. Even though this novel is contemporaneous to the release of Bolano’s 2666, I think the writing shares the more complex encyclopedic style and also it’s fair share of different genres and hell, boxing, that that novel has. Complex in its length and contents, not necessarily in the style.