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272 pages, Hardcover
First published November 1, 2013
it's no coincidence that when speaking of someone's death in mexico we say he "hung up his tennis shoes," that he "went out tennis shoes first." we are who we are, unfixable, fucked. we wear tennis shoes. we fly from good to evil, from happiness to responsibility, from jealousy to sex. souls batted back and forth across the court. this is the serve.the second of álvaro enrigue's works to be translated into english (after his short story collection, hypothermia), sudden death (muerte súbita) is a remarkable, matchless novel of historical fiction (if one were given to approximating the closest genre in which to situate it). winner of the prestigious herralde prize in 2013 (placing him squarely among the good company of marías, bolaño, vila-matas, giralt torrente, pitol, pauls, sada, villoro, nettel, et al.), sudden death is (not) a book about the origins of tennis, (nor) the counter-reformation, (nor) italian painter caravaggio or spanish poet quevedo, (nor) the prolonged, inebriated tennis match they play with a ball crafted from the hair of (the recently beheaded) anne boleyn. enrique, mexican author and bogotá39 honoree (celebrating young latin american writers of great promise; see also: zambra, neuman, alarcón, halfon, nettel, volpi, vásquez, díaz, roncagliolo, et al.), has been enjoying the sort of buzz that translated authors seldom garner (save for likes of bolaño, knausgård, ferrante, and perhaps krasznahorkai). sudden death makes clear that the hype is indeed well-warranted.
as i write, i don't know what this book is about. it's not exactly about a tennis match. nor is it a book about the slow and mysterious integration of america into what we call "the western world" -- an outrageous misapprehension, since from the american perspective, europe is the east. maybe it's just a book about how to write this book; maybe that's what all books are about. a book with a lot of back and forth, like a game of tennis.
it isn't a book about caravaggio or quevedo, though caravaggio and quevedo are in the book, as are cortés and cuauhtémoc, and galileo and pius iv. gigantic individuals facing off. all fucking, getting drunk, gambling in the void. novels demolish monuments because all novels, even the most chaste, are a tiny bit pornographic.
nor is it a book about the birth of tennis as a popular sport, though it definitely has its roots in extensive research i conducted on the subject with a grant at the new york public library. i embarked on the research after mulling over the discovery of a fascinating bit of information: the first truly modern painter in history was also a great tennis player and a murderer. our brother.
nor is it a book about the counter-reformation, but it takes place in a time that now goes by that name, which is why it's a book that features twisted and bloodthirsty priests, sex addict priests who fucked children for sport, thieving priests who obscenely swelled their coffers with the tithing and alms of poor all over the world. priests who were swine.
...i don't know what this book is about. i know that as i wrote it i was angry because the bad guys always win. maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is beyond bearing.