Mi reseña de Kryptonita, de Leonardo Oyola

What if...?

Kryptonita, by Leonardo Oyola. Random House Mondadori.

It’s night in the emergency room of the Paroissien hospital in Isidro Casanova, a nasty BA suburb. A nochero (the “unofficial” doctors who for a price cover the shifts of the professionals who are supposed to be on duty) is about to end his third day on his feet and can think of nothing but going home and swallowing a handful of pills to get him into a sleep that is anything but peaceful. It has been an eventful night, but it is about to get worse: a patient comes in with a strange wound on his back and several dangerous friends in tow. It is Nafta Súper, one of the most dangerous thugs in the area, and his friends are the other members of his gang. The ER is cleared of patients and doctors, the police surrounds the hospital, and the doctor is given clear instructions: keep Nafta Súper alive until daybreak, or you’re dead. But Nafta Súper is no ordinary human... in fact, neither of his friends is.
“Elseworlds” are a well-established tradition in comics and graphic novels, one which sets known heroes in alternative settings (a swashbuckling pirate Batman, Superman as Tarzan, Green Lantern in the Far West, etc.), and Leonardo Oyola’s Kryptonita is an open tribute to superheroes through a very Argentine elseworld. Here, Nafta Súper is Superman and his ‘associates’ are members of the League of Justice (Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc.). There are reconstructions of their backstories, and even retellings of some of their most famous adventures (like the 1992 Death of Superman DC series), and the representation is true even for their rivalries and secret weaknesses.
This is but one of the pop references in the novel, full of allusions to 1980s rock/pop and cumbia and suburban street codes. For that alone, this would be a rarity in a literary world that has more knowledge of French philosophers than the inside of a villa miseria. But, for Oyola (the author of Chamamé, Gólgota and Siete y el tigre harapiento, among others) you could call it par for the course: he specializes in fast-paced suburban stories where crime, action and violence meet fantasy and magic, steeped in an atmosphere of pop and rock references and strong characters with very deep roots in the real world. He has been called a noir novelist, and has in fact won the top prize at Gijón’s Semana Negra in Spain, but his palette (albeit dark) has many more shades than that.
And Kryptonita is the perfect example, a stew where all the ingredients could only come from his pen. The story is straightforward (Nafta Súper has been betrayed by his nemesis, they must get through the night fighting the police and so on), but the fact that there is “something else” to these characters turns it into something else. By the same token, he is turning the tables on the old dilemma of Argentine crime fiction, which is by definition noir because down here cops, criminals, judges and Government are hard to tell from one another (as in El secreto de sus ojos or Claudia Piñeiro’s Betibú, to name but two recent popular examples that put this conundrum up front and centre): if this is what happens with local detectives, what would happen to an Argentine superhero? If you take Krypton’s last son out of Smallville, will he grow righteous and uphold the law? Or will he make his own? For this discovery alone, and for bringing this into a literary arena that has no Michael Chabons to embrace its pop heroes, this is a book worth reading.
But, fast-paced and hardhitting and inventive as the stories are, there are moments when the tale breaks loose and flies away from Oyola’s hands, burdening a plotline that would benefit from being straight and fast as an arrow with lengthy detours into flashbacks and backstory. The detours themselves are gripping, the fictional universe is solid and the voices he uses to tell them are worth exploring, but when several 10-page chapters take you away from the main plot in a 215-page novel there comes a point when the reader says “this is good stuff, but take us back to the dying man on the surgery table and the bonaerense cops armed to the teeth outside.”
If the writer is the father of the novel, you could say that at times Oyola is an over-indulgent dad who cannot get enough of his talented kid and refuses to rein them in or edit the output. And a wild imagination telling a wild tale needs a steady hand to control it and bring it into shape, or the force of the narrative potential ends up working against the effectiveness of the story itself: if Tolkien left so many notebooks with unfinished side stories of the Middle Earth and Susannah Clarke featured the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel in some short stories of The Ladies of Grace Adieu, it was because they could see the potential of the imaginary world they had created but were also aware that all those stories did not fit in the framework of the novels (and those were much lengthier books than Kryptonita).
It must be said, too, that this would have been an area for a good editor to finetune. A proper editor would have helped tighten the narrative strings for Oyola’s powerful prose and explosive imagination to come to its fullest, but, alas, the editing work on this edition is borderline shoddy, to the point of spelling howlers such as “exploción” (page 175) making it to the printed page. Unfortunately, a cursory glance at another September release from the same publisher shows similar flaws, which do not speak of the writer (errors happen) but do speak to the fact that someone in that publishing house is asleep at the wheel (they are there to stop the errors from making it into bookstores).
But none of this takes away from the fact that this is a remarkable book, one that cries for relatives: if this were the first of its kind and we could one day fill a shelf with likeminded stories by Oyola and other Argentine writers, I for one would call myself a happy reader and Argentine literature would be much the richer. This is not Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay yet, not quite Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but it’s a very good first step in that most promising direction.
Publicada en el Buenos Aires Herald el 30 de septiembre de 2011

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