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A Naked Singularity: A Novel Paperback – April 19, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (April 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226141799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226141794
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In a narrow yet vital sense, this is a crime novel about one Casi, a precocious young public defender who, beginning to strain under the weight of his profession and his perfectionism, loses his first case and happens upon the opportunity to get away with the perfect crime. It is also one of those sprawling hyperverbal stream-of-consciousness epics that sometimes seem infatuated with their own cleverness but in their best moments manage to capture something profound about our sprawling hyperverbal stream-of-consciousness world. The story is anchored by notes of gritty realism—de la Pava clearly has an insider’s knowledge of the Manhattan criminal-court system—but Casi and his interlocutors are as likely to veer into digressive philosophical banter about Hume or The Honeymooners as they are to throw around the legal jargon you’d hear at an arraignment. There are some hilarious moments and more than a few heartbreaking ones involving a mentally handicapped man on Alabama’s death row. Although David Foster Wallace fans will likely notice his influence on de la Pava, the better comparison may be to Evan Dara’s The Lost Scrapbook (1998), which, like this book, developed a major following after originally being self-published. --Brendan Driscoll

Review

Winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Best Debut Novel of 2012
(PEN)

"One of the 10 best fiction books of 2012. . . . A propulsive, mind-bending experience. . . . The novel's chaotic sprawl, black humor and madcap digressions make it a thrilling rejoinder to the tidy story arcs portrayed on television and in most crime fiction. . . . Whatever the book loses in polish it amply repays in its uncompromising originality."
(Wall Street Journal)

"A Naked Singularity is not about physics. It's about the American criminal justice system in a large and chaotic city, a place slowly crushed by hopelessness in the same way that an ancient star is gradually crushed by gravity. . . . The novel is a densely packed and offhandedly poetic 678 pages. . . . It is about a city that teeters on the edge of total collapse and complete disaster, but that has the capacity to right itself (whew!) at the last possible second. . . . The novel is a cross between Moby-Dick and Police Academy. Between Descartes and Disneyland. Between Henry James and Henry Winkler." (Julia Keller Chicago Tribune)

"Mesmerising."
(Times of London)

"This book is ambitious. It's 678 octavo pages--about 13,000 tweets. It's the sort of book you write if you're not sure anyone will ever let you write another one. . . . Even while the lives it describes are often bleak, the book is funny, consistently so. . . . The heist is discussed so exhaustively that when it finally transpires it's thrilling. Casi's defendants, all messes, are lovely and authentic. I could have done with a whole book about them, or rather I enjoyed the whole book about them I read in the middle of this much larger book about other things. A story of a death penalty case begins drenched in irony and grows ever more serious. . . . It's a fine thing for an author to bring forth something so unapologetically maximalist."
(Paul Ford Slate)

"Casi's voice is the combination of brashness and world-weary humanity you'd find in a cynic who'd been scratched to reveal the disappointed idealist beneath. . . . The whole feels like The Recognitions as legal thriller, a glorious mess with dashes of Powers, minor Pynchon, and White Noise, among many others. . . . [I]n its ambitions and shortcomings and shaggy glory, A Naked Singularity is perhaps most reminiscent of The Broom of the System. So that bodes well."
(Tim Feeney Review of Contemporary Fiction)

"One of the best and most original novels of the decade. . . . It's one of those fantastic, big, messy books like Darconville's Cat or Infinite Jest or Women and Men, though it's not really like any of those books or those writers. . . . . But see here: I refuse to divulge too much of the plot, because watching it unfold is one of the great joys of the novel. . . . . What I keep coming back to is the audacity of this novel, which is truly a towering, impressive work--De La Pava's not hesitant to break and then mirror the narrative with the story of professional boxer Wilfred Benitez, or insert a recipe, none of which hinder the narrative but rather shape the entirety of the book, making the actual story and its effect on the characters (and the characters' actions that shape the story, et cetera) more profound. . . .  If you like The Wire, if you like rewarding, difficult fiction, if you like literary, high-quality artistic and hilarious yet moving novels that are difficult to put down, I can’t recommend A Naked Singularity enough." (Scott Bryan Wilson The Quarterly Conversation)

"A Naked Singularity looks like an unreadable brick, bloated at 700 pages and likely dense with esoterica. Instead it is a fine encyclopedic romp in the Joyce/Pynchon/Wallace tradition, one with an effortless flow and arresting setting: the American judicial system as vortical funhouse."
(Miles Klee The Notes)

"Weird, brilliant."
(Steve Donoghue The National)

"The manic prose fights viciously against an ultimate collapse of good into evil--but not only is there no escape; there was never any such thing."
(Miles Klee Flavorwire)

"A work of amazing breadth and humor. . . . Challenging, addictively entertaining and not to be missed, A Naked Singularity heralds the arrival of a tremendous talent."
(Shelf Awareness)

"I strongly encourage you to overcome whatever hesitation the phrase 700-page self-published novel may inspire in you and pick it up. It is a beautiful monster of a book, a novel that left this reviewer, at least, feeling like maybe there's some point in reading novels--and writing them--after all." (Paul La Farge Barnes and Noble Review)

"It's staggering to think this novel is De La Pava's major publishing launch: A Naked Singularity is considerably better than most debuts and has unquestionably rendered De La Pava an author to watch."
(About.com)

"'Buzz' is a dirty word in reviewing circles, being a close cousin to 'hype' and often having the same air about it of ad copy generated by publicity departments. It's the kind of word that should put you immediately on guard: Just where is this buzz coming from? Who is doing the buzzing? That said, sometimes buzz can be a good thing. Sergio De La Pava's A Naked Singularity is a case in point. . . . A Naked Singularity is . . . a great American novel: large, ambitious, and full of talk. . . . We can be thankful that this time the buzz did its work."
(Toronto Star)

"When I started reading A Naked Singularity, after a page or two I realized I was going to love it--and I did--but why? I've never sat down to analyze what it is that makes me read a book voraciously from cover to cover, fretting when I have to put it down and longing through the day to get back to it. I like, admire, appreciate a whole range of books and am happy to devote my time and attention to them, but the ones that take me over are rarer. . . . Casi's voice is astonishing, cynical but compassionate, alive to the ridiculous and the pitiful and the horrific but never losing its commitment to morality."

(Lian Hearn, author of Tales of the Otori)

A Philadelphia City Paper Book of the Year

"Exuberant, hyperverbal . . . a minor masterpiece of humor, paranoia, and even flashy technique." (Philadelphia City Paper)

"Sergio De La Pava brings linguistic energy and grim hilarity to this furious novel about the dysfunctional criminal-justice system. His novel evokes such maximalist masterpieces of the 1970s as Robert Coover's Public Burning and William Gaddis's J R--he has Coover's rage and Gaddis's ear--yet also grapples with current issues hot off the AP wire. Socially engaged, formally inventive, and intellectually challenging, A Naked Singularity is a remarkable performance."
(Steven Moore)

"One of the best books of 2012."
(Houston Chronicle)

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Customer Reviews

Leaving the end unresolved may have satisfied the author, but not this reader.
Halley Faust
The story goes in so many interesting directions and digressions which all worked for me.
Digital Rights
That's the best review I can give to any book since it was such a blast to read.
Jose

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Dmitry Portnoy VINE VOICE on April 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
"A Naked Singularity" is the greatest lawyer novel since "To Kill a Mockingbird," the best originally self-published novel since "Youth In Revolt," and the third big fat great novel of this century after "Europe Central" and "The Instructions." The set-up is pure Grisham, a brilliant young public defender finds himself involved in. . .(and so on), but the whole is so much more, the way Dante's Inferno is more than a horror-coaster ride through hell.

Let me explain. Some entertainments are race cars; some are watches. All stories are wheels. In a plot driven entertainment, the wheels hit the road spinning as fast as they can to get you from point A to point B. (The fastest plots, like formula ones, drive you in a circle to the starting line.) In a clockwork entertainment, there are wheels within wheels: the stories interlock like the gears of a clock, and the point is to tell you what time it is now. This is the difference between, for instance, "Law and Order" and "The Wire."

In this context "A Naked Singularity" is a Rolex, a Breguet, a Patek Phillipe. As befits a tale of clients and lawyers, most of the book is people telling stories to each other. All of them (people and stories) are fascinating, complex, and unpredictable. This book is more educational than two years in law school and more fun than a weekend in New York. In addition to the sausage making of our courts, it contains one of the worst blind dates in literature, the best immigrant musical number since "West Side Story" (and that being a fugue for single voices, also owes a debt to "Fidelio,") and startling scatological riffs worthy of Mozart.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Digital Rights on November 13, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved this book. It's broad, deep, smart but not smarmy, intelligent and witty without the cyncism that often follows. Some have said it's a typical college try at the great American novel. I thought about that as there's no doubt that Sergio de la Pava has thrown everything that a pop culture raised, self aware young twenties male might come across in the late 1990's; Honeymooners reruns, the existence of god, the great boxers of the 1980, drug dealers, the criminal justice system, the big bang theory, the only hysterical scatalogical vignette that I've ever read and on and on. And that's not even the plot!

But what if one wrote so well that it all works?

That is the case here. Sergio de la Pava writing, pace, creativity and storytelling in combination delivers one of my favorite books for 2012.

Casi is a Public Defender in New York City. The setting appears to be late 1990's but with a few IT references that hint of editing right up to his self publishing date of 2008.

Chapter one is a priceless education in what (may) really happen to the charged and incarcerated in our Criminal Justice System. We meet his half dozen "clients" on a typical day, the crimes, the negotiations, what prosecutors, police, judges and defense attorneys are thinking. All while the largely clueless and lost defendants try to figure out what's just happened. It's a whirlwind, eye opening satire on a system that doesn't seem to work well for anyone.

Casi's life is a mix of his worklife, couch potato friends in Brooklyn Heights and his colorful immigrant family from Colombia now settled in Jersey City. He's 24 and already working for 2 years as a lawyer suggesting he was a brilliant student that burned through college and law school.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy on August 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Full Review:
Writing a review for this book is complicated. I think I'm just going to throw out a jumble of thoughts that explain why I reduced my first impression (copied at the bottom) to 3 stars from 4 stars.

First a summary for those not familiar with the story: Casi is a young public defense attorney in NY who's tries to save poor addicts and dealers and the like from prison, he's smarter than everyone else, he tries to save a death row inmate in Alabama, he gets caught up in a heist, he talks about various subjects like the concept of perfection, and he talks a lot about boxing champions.

Now my thoughts:
1) The first third of the book is great. So well written, such amazing detail about NY courts, and so clever and witty. After that first third, it's just another case of feeling like the author ran out of material and doesn't know what to write about. He's still clever and witty, but it's going nowhere. Some discursive ramblings are interesting, some are boring. Then he starts in with a plot, as if he knew he wasn't going anywhere and had to introduce something. It was a good plot, but it would've helped to introduce it earlier to make a more cohesive story.
2) The boxing references go from interesting to just sounding like statistics. In the end he ties it together, but I think the book could've used some editing for this and other loose areas.
3) My most important thought: All the characters sound exactly the same. They're all philosophical. They all have the same speech. Casi is an interesting character, I'm sure Sergio is an interesting guy, so it's a good read. But you have to make your characters sound different, at least so we know who's talking.
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