- Paperback: 688 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (April 19, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226141799
- ISBN-13: 978-0226141794
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 75 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Naked Singularity: A Novel Paperback – April 19, 2012
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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
"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)
"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)
"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)
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A NAKED SINGULARITY -- A book of 864 pages I wish had been even longer. One of those rare novels you don't want to end. A classic post-modern novel dabbling in everything but the kitchen sink: astrophysics, boxing, chess, philosophy, law, New York blackout, the criminal justice system, a daring heist, the Honeymooners and Ralph Kramden. Unlike a lot of post-modern novels, though, which have no discernible plot, there is something of a plot that propels this novel, a bold heist, the elusive “perfect” crime.
First-time author De La Pava could not find a publisher for A NAKED SINGULARITY, so he self-published it in 2008. Through word-of-mouth buzz, the novel was finally picked up by University of Chicago Press, and now retains cult status.
For an 864-page novel, it moves swiftly, primarily on a dialogue based form. The writing is at times witty, madcap, inventive. The protagonist, the narrator, is a young New York City attorney known to us only as Casi. As the novel opens, he’d never lost a case, which is saying something since he defends the down-and-out, the feeble-minded, those least able to navigate the justice system. Through Casi we learn the ins-and-out of the New York criminal system, with all its flaws, loopholes and injustices. When one of his clients, a petty druggie named DeLeon, tells him inside information about a huge drug deal about to go down, Dane, one of Casi’s colleagues obsessed with “perfection,” tries to convince Casi that they should rip off the drug dealers. At the same time, Casi is trying to save a mentally challenged client from the electric chair. What transpires I’ll leave to you to find out. But it’s great.
I loved this book.
My list of authors that came to mind is crazier: Thomas Love Peacock, Junot Diaz, James McCourt, John Kennedy Toole. James Ellroy. But this list still does inadequate justice to de la Pava's remarkable book.
Where to begin? Well, this is a novel narrated by Casi (Spanish for "almost," what his mother kept telling nurses when they asked for the new-born's name), Casi, a very young and very smart Manhattan public defender, of Colombian immigrant origin. There is a crime novel somewhere in here. I think. But this isn't a book read for the common thrills of genre literature. We learn enormous amounts of information about a broken legal system, but again, this isn't the point.
What we have is Casi's brain, running at a million miles an hour, pretty much spilling out thoughts a little faster than he can think them. The only word I can come up with to describe the style is "headlong." We rush breathless through his funny, sad, scary pages, trying to keep up. I kept wondering if de la Pava could pull it off, and he does, barely. People have complained that the book is too digressive, which misses the point completely; this is like moaning about "Tristram Shandy" not getting to the point. "A Naked Singularity," the entire book, is one long digression, or hundreds of digressions, including some of the weirdest and most wonderful conversations ever written down. This is a novel of logical intellectual exaggeration.
He drops the ball, once, horribly, in Chapter 25, and tosses in an insult at the reader for good measure. I forgave him half-way through the first page of Chapter 26.
One particularly pleasing thing: I don't know how long de la Pava worked on this book; it seems to be set in about 2000. No smart phones, no i-anythings, hardly any computers. Oh, he tosses in a few anachronistic items to act like he is au courant, like the high-speed wireless connection in the supremely odd Orchard hotel scene. But he doesn't mean it. The astounding conversations take place in the flesh, face to face. No computers. There is even a fax machine. Bliss; I fear every novel will soon be like every teevee drama, where nine-tenths of the "action" is people texting, people yakking on their phones, people wasting their lives on social media, while life around them becomes more and more like a stupid video game. Not so this book; it is a supremely human endeavor.
All I can suggest, urge, you to do is to read the first few pages previewed. If you get it, get it. And there is also a very tempting empanada recipe.
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.
The story goes in so many interesting directions and digressions which all worked for me. I loved even his recounting of 1980's welterweight boxing history. He wrote it better than any hack sportswriter.
For a long story it's well paced, often very funny, always witty and a wonderful expose of one man's 1990's New York life.