Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Naked Singularity

Rate this book
Casi is a hotshot public defender working on the front line of America’s War on Drugs. So far he’s on the winning side. He’s never lost a case. But nothing lasts forever, and pride like his has a long way to fall.

Funny, smart and always surprising, A Naked Singularity speaks a language all of its own and reads like nothing else ever written. Casi’s beautiful mind and planetary intelligence make him an inimitable and unforgettable narrator.

In De La Pava’s hands, the labyrinthine miseries of the New York Justice System are as layered and diabolical as Dante’s nine circles of Hell. But the Devil doesn’t hog the best lines. There are plenty here to go around.

689 pages, Paperback

First published October 14, 2008

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Sergio de la Pava

8 books168 followers
Sergio de la Pava is the author of A Naked Singularity.
Sergio de la Pava is a writer who does not live in Brooklyn.

In August, 2013, Sergio won PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for his debut fiction, A Naked Singularity.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,155 (44%)
4 stars
828 (31%)
3 stars
420 (16%)
2 stars
125 (4%)
1 star
60 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 380 reviews
Profile Image for Joshua Nomen-Mutatio.
333 reviews873 followers
August 22, 2012
"Why did you want me to read that?"
"Because it’s a story."

If you’re unmoved or infuriated by the attempts of clever writers to baptize the strange as familiar and vice-versa, or by the likes of Wallace and DeLillo and Co. to turn human conversation into unrealistic, alternately funny/serious philosophical discourse, then please, back away slowly with your hands directed at 11:05 or 1:55, whatever the case may be. You have no use for this book. Let me save you the trouble and the trouble of me having to encounter your impending, vote-whoring, renegade-posturing "review" about how you couldn’t exceed more than 1% to 13.8% of the book and how the emperor is oh so nude, and how the Big Bad Bullying Literati Cabal has forced you into such a sympathetic and against-the-grain-cum-populist position in the first place.


In this book, people are often engaged in what some would classify as "dorm room bull sessions" (i.e. late night, oft-intoxicated, profoundly earnest (and likewise often simultaneously cynically (self-)aware-of-"everything") discussions about deep things like what happens when you die, ethical and epistemic quandaries, etc) but set in times and in places where such things don’t usually, realistically, take place—and with a degree of wisdom and cogency that they don’t usually possess outside of, say, a book like this, written by an earnestly/cynically truth-and-happiness-seeking writer with a philosophy degree and a knack for fiction who’s well beyond his college days. If this isn’t for you, then, again, please just vanish from the premises with your ears muffled by your mitts and with an overdramatic grimace on your face—a posture which you can know, in your heart of hearts, your similarly-misguided fans would find extremely amusing and stirring of their faux-populist/faux-victimized loins—enough to click ‘Like’ and wage a comment-supportive battle on your behalf, I’m sure.


The group of eccentric intellectual students that Casi sometimes hangs out with are the symbolic dorm room bull session and Casi and other analytic-bound and eloquent and post-collegiate characters are the representation of how those bull sessions don’t really ever stop after college days are left behind to consume our dust, much as we like-minded might sometimes urge them to be, as much as we can laugh off these things most of the time, and/or permanently relegate them to the corridors of our minds that we label with safely-distancing and dismissive terms like Bull Session or Cliché Existential Angst and so on. There are persistent issues like this that, frankly, demand serious consideration and urgency, whether we want them to or not—it’s not a matter of wanting. But things like the work-a-day life beckon and then consume time and energy with gaping maws and ceaselessly groaning bellies, while pursuits of happiness necessitate a denial of these nagging lines of inquiry and existential angst that might leave us feeling hopeless, depressed—unwilling to submit to the everyday bullshit of jobs and social pressure and the commonplace moment to moment perceptual settings—and on top of all of that, we simply become exhausted by them, point after point, maybe just as consistently and often as they arise anew, as fresh wounds in the mind, stripped of cynical dismissal, and re-seizing us as if for the first time, somehow.

"We’re going to be all right," he said.
"No," I said. "But we’re going to live."

The book also contains:

*A smorgasbord of incisive social, political, cultural, religious, philosophical and even, though sometimes oh so relatively less adept, scientific insights; extremely short list:
—the moral failure of the War on Drugs and the perpetual cycles of poverty
—free will v. determinism
—moral realism v. moral nihilism
—the Theory of Everything w/r/t physics
—the expansion of the universe
—the death penalty
—the vast implications of technological evolution
—the adversarial and harmonious relationships between the humanities and the sciences (both soft and hard alike and their attendant relationships as well)
—the highs and lows of accumulating more or possessing less information, facts, theories, intellectual know-how, etc.
*A grasp on the legal system that, to this non-law-school-attending layman, seemed thoroughly researched and astoundingly well-conveyed
*Mesmerizing, hyper-real and/or surreal, off-kilter vignettes—one involving a confessional booth/reality TV show, for instance (among many other instances)
*Stunning dream sequences
*The ever so slightest eyelash brush with potential Romantic Love that hit me in the gut and tugged the heart strings quite possibly harder and more meaningfully than any other depiction of fully consummated Romantic Love ever has
*A truly strange and dazzling heist, i.e. "the 'perfect' crime" (strange and dazzling in both how the author expertly described and paced it and embedded it into the overall plot and in the way the characters devise and carry it out)
*Shockingly apt and poetically detailed symbolism involving boxing (as in the sport where two men dance with and pummel each other)
*Horrifying and comic collusions between commerce and politcs/entertainment and civics that hit very close to home
*A massive scale NYC power outage in the Siberian dead of winter
*A heart-pounding crime/thriller/cat’n’mouse narrative via various aforementioned litfic conventions woven into the overall tapestry—the kind of knuckle-whitening and drool-inducing thing that TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire pull off addictively and consistently from cliff-hanging episode to cliff-hanging episode
*An array of initially seeming disparate narrative strands elegantly intersected through the unrelenting arc of Time’s arrow, gradually intertwining and setting into one another with delectable clicks of well-carved keys plunged into ornate locks
*Not to mention loads upon fucking loads of innovative prose of the habit-forming sort that I could endlessly read when put to the use of describing just about anything—from things such as riding the subway to work or a cold blooded murder as seen through a convenience store security camera or other immense tragedies, all the way across the spectrum to minutia like preparing empanadas or the undeniable highs and absurd woes of Television or the labeling of snack foods/beverages
*And holy hell is it ever so often hilarious while never failing to take its eyes off its utmost dramatic and serious thematic and narrative layers, which is a confoundingly beautiful feat in itself
*And good fucking gracious, what a perfect ending

ASIDE: Somewhat Obligatory/Inescapable Authorial Points of Reference, i.e. Connections Made Within This Reviewer’s Head While Reading This Book

Somewhat obvious elements of hallmarks like Kafka’s The Trial and Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment and Bros. K, though these elements are so ingrained in literary tradition as to have not been thought of directly as being sourced by Franz and Fyodor even a once by De La Pava while writing. Also present is the undeniable DFW-style narrative tone, the encyclopedic-brainiac-meets-casual-deadpan-verbosity, but more so the first-person journalism stuff rather than often omniscient third-person fiction. It does for boxing what Infinite Jest did for tennis and for behind-the-curtain probings of the legal system what the The Pale King did for the IRS. The Wallace comparisons have been laid down and I’d say this is the most Wallace-y toned writing I’ve ever read by someone not-Wallace (I don’t really buy the Adam Levin or George Saunders comparisons at all), but, all that being said, I fully agree with my fellow Big Pomo Book Nerds that De La Pava maintains his own unique vision and doesn’t come off as a rip-off artist in the least. He, like many writers now, has simply soaked up that infectious tone, that delicious marriage between the upper and lower brows, and luckily goes in many unique directions—both stylistically and otherwise—with it. BOTTOM LINE SALES PITCH: If you like or love David Foster Wallace, in either or both non-fictional or fictional form, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll not like or love this book. As tacky as that blunt assertion is, it’s the BOTTOM LINE SALES PITCH so do with it what thou whilst.

The Naked Singularity was a real treat, to say the absolute goddamn least—full of intelligence and beautifully-paced suspense and wit and humor and stylistic and structural innovation and deep human drama and all of the other stuff a good, thick, brain-and-heart-driven book should be full of. Believe/take a chance on the (slowly developing and relatively minimal) hype if you’re into this kind of thing. If not, back up—there’s nothing to see here.

Don’t make me bust out my katana.
Profile Image for Guille.
739 reviews1,445 followers
October 10, 2021
—Cuatro estrellas son bastantes estrellas. ¿De qué va la novela?

— La respuesta no es fácil. La novela toca un montón de temas y lo hace de muy diversas formas y con muy distintos registros. Leerás divagaciones de todo tipo, filosóficas, éticas, sociales, judiciales entre divertidos disparates varios. Incluso podrás encontrar un apasionante capítulo thriller. Podría decirte que, más o menos, puede representar un retrato de por dónde nos encontramos en estos momentos como sociedad.

— Vaya rollo, no me atrae nada de nada.

— A ver, te puedo decir que hay por ahí un héroe del boxeo de los años setenta y ochenta, una familia de esas que se toman como un insulto personal el que uno de los suyos tenga que tomar un taxi para ir al aeropuerto, una obsesiva ansia de perfección, vecinos disparatados y, fundamentalmente, una persona no del todo disparatada, decente incluso, niño prometedor de familia modesta e inmigrante que consigue llegar a la universidad, licenciarse y empezar a trabajar como un excelente abogado de oficio, amante de la buena literatura y de Beethoven, que en un momento dado, cansado de asistir impotente ante tanta miseria, casi siempre negra, tanta estulticia, tan pocas soluciones y tan pocas ganas (o inteligencia o integridad o humanidad o…) de aplicar las soluciones posibles, colapsa bajo el influjo de la serpiente, su colega existencial que le ofrece la manzana de una escapatoria en forma de robo perfecto a una banda de narcotraficantes.

— Vamos, un coñazo de esos postmodernos.

— Esto… en fin: en torno al relato de ese colapso que es esta singularidad desnuda en la que se ha convertido el sistema jurídico-legislitivo-policial en USA (¿en dónde no?), ese sistema retroalimentado de inhumanidad que se traga a todo el que no tiene los recursos suficientes para no ser enganchado o escapar en el caso contrario, y en un contexto de abatimiento y angustia del protagonista, aquejado de un “dolor insoportable de oído e insomnio incurable”, con un grave problema financiero-puto-banco, elaborando un más que posible ineficaz alegato contra la pena de muerte de un retrasado mental, bajo una espada de Damocles en forma de una jueza prevaricadora y con un paisaje de fondo dominado por el espectáculo televisivo montado en torno a una monstruosa violencia infantil contra un bebé, se articulan y desarrollan infinidad de temas y de pequeñas tramas paralelas en las que reina un ambiente de desesperanza, indignación, impotencia y pesimismo aunque casi siempre en un tono irónico-paródico-sarcástico-humorístico.
— Lo que yo te diga, hermano, un auténtico coñazo.

— No, lo que te diga yo: más de setecientas páginas…

— ¿Cuantas qué?

— Más de setecientas páginas que, como otra de esas curiosidades inexplicables de la física en la que una partícula puede estar en dos sitios a la vez, me han parecido pocas por lo que divierten y emocionan y explican de nuestro momento como sociedad.

— Ya, estupendo, todo muy interesante, todo muy ingenioso, blablabla, pero ¿mola o no mola?

— Tú, mejor no lo leas.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,323 followers
February 24, 2018
Wow! This book got reallyreally popular! 1332 ratings--240 Reviews!! Back in my day it had barely scratched 100 starragings!!! Self-publishing may still be a necessary evil, but much more important is maintaining institutions which can afford to maintain their literary and scholarly integrity. Thank you University of Chicago Press.

For those of us pessimistic about the possibilities remaining for the encyclopedic novel in this age of twitterdom, Sergio De La Pava’s A Naked Singularity is evidence to the contrary. His is a fantastically fun, smart, witty, verbose novel whose protagonist, like many of us, is caught between a resigned cynicism and a need to come through the screen of irony which would leave us more the victim of incomprehensible systems than truly free, critical, human, and independent. James Wood was onto something when he detected a new genre emerging out of the art of fictioning which he called ‘hysterical realism.’ If the hysteric is one who does not know what she desires, then the resultant realist novel will concern itself with tracing the passage of a protagonist through its immersion in opaque systems and unidentifiable desires through to a--even if thwarted--second naïveté, a détente with her lack of desire. This, dear Mr Wood, is how it feels.

A Naked Singularity has everything readers of mega-novels are looking for: many pages, erudition, quirks, digressions, vignettes which leave one scratching one’s head, technical arcana, humor, wit, pain, multiple forms of prose and a bit of (bad) poetry (which is the novel in its very constitution), a failure to properly ‘end,’ correlations, significant numbers, itself worn on its sleeve, clever and oh-so-obvious self-reflexiveness, heart, lots and lots and lots of words, obsession, indulgence, lack of discipline, need of an editor, those 300 pages which if excised would have made for a ‘tighter novel,’ and enough printing errors (brought/bought) to keep us all happy. It is excellent, entertaining, won’t make one feel stupid nor cudgeled, and yet won’t bore one with insipidity, although that’s there, too.

The story of A Naked Singularity’s coming-to-be, its passage into self-publication, the eventual emergence of reviews and notices on the internet, its (finally!) publication by University of Chicago Press will follow this novel into its old age just as E=MC2 will follow Einstein to the singularity. The hype which has developed around it will also remain part of its eternal mystique. Let me say that the hype is correct and is not hype, but an expression of the extreme pleasure its proper readers have experienced upon finding that there really is still someone out there writing the kind of book we love to read. The comparisons which have been made to god-like authors are justified, fully, but with a few caveats which I would like to discuss. This is a fantastic book, and if you admire any of the authors with whom De La Pava has been compared, you will read this book in fewer than the seven days I allotted myself.

A Naked Singularity has been compared to Coover’s The Public Burning, Gaddis’ JR, Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and of course that grandaddy of the encyclopedic, Melville’s Moby-Dick(and of course The Wire and other police procedurals which Television has been so good at producing). All true and all good reason for picking up A Naked Singularity. The most salient influences, to my mind are J R and Infinite Jest. The human voice has been rendered better than by Gaddis by but only (possibly) very few. De La Pava has a love of dialogue; characters exist largely to the extent that they speak. But his characters’ speech is more cleaned up, slicker, than the stuttering, broken, interrupted, failed attempts to express which makes Gaddis’ dialogue so much more real than what we know to expect from dialogue in a novel. De La Pava’s dialogue is more novelistic, his characters speak with more editorial polish than the more or less direct transcription one enjoys in J R. To take one instance of unavoidable comparison with DFW, while DFW writes Tennis, De La Pava writes Boxing. Here in capsule form we see that De La Pava is the weaker writer, not accomplishing with his sports metaphor the profundity and universality which DFW reaches with his writing on Tennis. The Boxing material in A Naked Singularity is extremely well written, engaging, and apropos to the structure and plot of the book. The themes developed through the Boxing passages mirror and echo the experiences, expectations, desires, and deadlocks of our protagonists, Casi _____. But for the most part the metaphor lies simply parallel with the main course of the Casi narrative. On its surface we get the mere story of the rise and fall of Boxing (forgotten) legend Benitez. In contrast, DFW’s writing on Tennis is never merely a recounting of Tennis stars’ life stories, or mere descriptions of Tennis matches, but is always already a reflected analysis of what Tennis says about the rest of us; Tennis, a particular human activity, is always only a means to see some larger, universal aspect of human experience, how Tennis reveals ‘what it is like to be a fucking human being.’ This moment of universalization, an urgent question for our post-postmodern fiction is absent in A Naked Singularity. It is not necessary for it to be present. The writing is excellent as it stands. This caveat about how A Naked Singularity stands in relation to those books to which it has been compared is only to say that with A Naked Singularity we do not have a profoundly new way of writing novels as was the case with the publication of books like Infinite Jest or Gravity’s Rainbow or The Recongitions or Women and Men. But we don’t need it to do that. A Naked Singularity is a welcome (and urgently needed) addition to this sparsely populated genre I like to call the encyclopedic novel or the mega-novel.

A few bits of wonderfulness one might expect:
--Philosophy (De La Pava has studied philosophy); Lock on identity as memory; Hume on causation; Descartes’ method of doubt; what can only be described as Hegel’s dialectic of recognition in the form of making an impression on a blind date; Peter Singer’s ethical argument regarding proximity; Plato’s ring of Gyges; atheists in foxholes; the theodicy question; ends and means morality; Nietzsche’s Übermensch and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov; Popper’s falsification thesis regarding the nature of scientific proof. The inclusion of which-all is well justified in relation to the plot and structure of the book, and all of which is accurately presented. Except for Conley’s overly optimistic eugenics claims regarding the Human Genome Project the philosophical material is not bullshit nor pseudo-intellectual. Although it does feel like midnight bullshit sessions held in college dormitories.
--Lists. No Menippean satire is complete without ‘em. But De La Pava does one better by raising Lists to the meta-level, the metalist.
--Stuff about perfection and greatness. When everything is relative and all is subjective, dare we ask about perfection and greatness?
--Just enough metafiction which comes in the form of an inflight film without sound, Mayor Toad’s Video Vigilants, and, of course, reflections on what it was like to write A Naked Singularity.
--A story about a burrito getting its own back in court.
--Discourses on the importance of money. You did know how important money is, didn’t you?
--A solution to the War on Drugs.
--A nearly page long order for a cup of coffee.
--The acronyms SERPENT (in the Orchard) and COCK.
--A monkey. Or was it a chimp? Reese? Rhesus? Rhemus? Whosits?

The next list. A few nice lines; we all love quotes out of context:
--Regarding sex: “We’re obsessed with what we’ve ruined” (p137).
--”Life is nasty, malevolent, toxic, evil, and brutish. And you know the worst part? The part that really sticks in my craw, whatever a craw is. . . . It’s too short” (p407).
--”Often the greatest art is inaccessible to all but a few” (p423).
--”If reality is sometimes so intense and bizarre that it feels like bad, unpersuasive fiction, then this was a fiction so powerful it outrealized reality” (p438).
--Re: “A comedy in name only, neither divine nor vulgar. A comedy in error, full of irony and self-reference and signifying an empty nil” (p485).
--”Why’d you want me to read that? Because it’s a story” (p551).

A final list. Because I have gained so much from such like as the following list I would like to offer the following suggestions for those who enjoyed A Naked Singularity (and you will) and some of the titles dropped above. This encyclopedic or mega-novel genre, which I’ve been harping on, feels like home to me and perhaps feels like home to you as well. If it does, please consider the following recommendations:

The old-timers:
Gargantua and Pantagruel
Don Quixote
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
The Anatomy of Melancholy
The Histories
Lucian of Samosata, or so one would suspect.

The really, really important ones:
The Recognitions
Gravity's Rainbow
Women and Men
Infinite Jest
Darconville's Cat
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling

Really, really good ones:
The Sot-Weed Factor
Giles Goat-Boy
Laura Warholic: Or the Sexual Intellectual
The Tunnel
A Frolic of His Own -- for more legal satire
Mason and Dixon
Against the Day
Take Five
The Public Burning
The Gold Bug Variations
You Bright and Risen Angels
The Royal Family
Vollmann’s Seven Dream series
Gilligan's Wake: A Novel
Daisy Buchanan's Daughter
The Lost Scrapbook
Mulligan Stew
Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy
La Medusa
Omega Minor
Europe Central
The Last Samurai
Where Tigers Are at Home
The Instructions

[okay so I've read all of the above now finally (except the Lucian(w?!)) And though I've ceased to update the list ; feel free to run with it]

And THIRD, we attempt to address the anomalous nature of this list in the context of my Review of Vanessa Place’s La Medusa, which discussion begins HERE. There is further attempts to indicate the (related) situation within the context of the Shandian Spawn which can be found HERE.

I am indebted to Steven Moore for the origin of this my list. Those who enjoy this ‘big, brainy’ genre should look into his The Novel: An Alternate History volume 1: Beginnings to 1600 where you will find an unbelievable trove of all things novel-ish. Especial attention should go to p330-331, “. . .every author of an innovative novel mixing literary forms and genres in an extravagant style is indebted to Rabelais, directly or indirectly. Out of his codpiece came . . .” and follows a list of fun stuff that will make you drool from here to next Thursday. [You ask me to reproduce that LIST!?!]

Thanks to Joshua Nomen-Mutatio we have received notice of the following profile of De La Pava from Garth Risk Hallberg in The Millions

In anticipation:

"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, author of The Novel: An Alternative History
Profile Image for Stephen M.
137 reviews594 followers
May 31, 2013
"I quit a little before halfway. It didn't break me, I just lost interest. The book is written the way one might actually expect a harried, sleep-deprived, lacking-in-spare-time lawyer like the protagonist (and author?) to write, which I guess is a certain kind of authenticity, but not the kind of thing I want to read 678 pages of."

"Boxing...philosophy...Dane...blah blah whatever."

"What the hell does rant mean?"
-Peter Griffin

It’s easy to take great writers for granted.

The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes of most novels is done in such a way that we hardly ever notice the true hard work that goes into crafting an effective story. There is a type of subtlety at work in all stories that disguises the elements that influence the reader, which these elements more often than not fly under our radar. The power of unconscious forces almost always trumps the forces that we are conscious of and thus the really great books penetrate our psyches without our full awareness. It is because of this that the greatest books take serious work to unpack the elements that push us this way and that.

The factors at work are not always literary, thematic concerns either. Tone, pacing, character, subtly of description are just some of the many tools that great writers use to craft excellent stories. This is realm in which one hones his/her writerly chops. Without any thoughts to some bigger picture story being told, it all falls back on the basic skills of the medium. As it is with a surrealist painter who must learn to draw geometrically perfect lines first, so must the writer learn and practice all the fundamentals of story-telling that draw in the reader and create a believable world populated with individualized characters and crucial details about the reality that the story inhabits. Anyone with a sharp, analytical mind can pluck out this or that philosophical conceit behind a novel. And anyone with enough motivation can rehash this or that lofty conceit in the guise of a story and call it an interesting work of literary art. But that’s not what makes literature interesting, is it? Think of all those editors pouring over manuscript after manuscript picking them apart at the level of story and characterization, with little concern about “what the book has to say” or “this or that philosophical idea that it instantiates in its prose”.

If we are really honest with ourselves about our favorite books, no matter how “high-brow” or “lofty” the enjoyment may be, there are many fundamental aspects of the book that play a crucial role in our enjoyment. Even a writer like David Foster Wallace, no stranger to difficult books that drag readers through 1000+ pages of prose, knows full well the importance of “seducing the reader” and especially when dealing with books of great length. Now, the extreme end on this side of the spectrum may be the strict, pulp writers who limit themselves to genre, or perhaps better said, writers that leave little for the reader to chew on, little for them to think about. There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of writing, but it is constrained by mere writerly technique and may not approach the profound pleasure that other “loftier” works indulge in; deftly plotted plots and fully-fleshed out characters only lay the foundation upon which interesting questions can be posed (I’m leaving the best selling writers like James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, etc. out of this discussion as they fail even on this basic level, leaving the secret to their monumental success a complete mystery to me). Without a foundation of solid writerly chops, we are often left with a compendium of lofty ideas without a basis in the basic pleasures of literature.

I’ve never quite pinned down what the word “self-indulgent” means with regards to novels, but I would imagine when writers eschew these foundational writing techniques, the book takes on elements which some might characterize as “self-indulgent”. These techniques work because they invite the reader into the world, they force a writer to be more “hands-off” with the loftier work and allow for the reader to derive such loftier conceits for themselves. Otherwise, the writer seems much more concerned with extolling this or that philosophical idea rather than creating a reading experience open to both a reader’s enjoyment and the subsequent ideas that s/he can make for her/himself. And this does not always fall down the lines of accessibility or difficulty in a book. I can think of several “difficult” books which still retain a strong sense of story and character which propel the story along (Ulysses and Cloud Atlas immediately come to mind).

One side effect of foregoing fleshed out characters and an interesting plot may result in a book that is full of interesting ideas but without any good justification for why it has been all put into one story. When the author lets his/her own ideas take center stage, then these plot and character elements fall to the wayside. The ideas that the author wants so desperately to convey comes across as a contrivance as opposed to anything that could be genuinely interesting to the reader.

This is especially true when the reader is already intimately familiar with the majority of the ideas within the text. When the “characters” have introspective “reflections” they are not particularly interesting when said reader has already given such questions a great deal of thought. It is not enough to fill one’s books with this or that musing or philosophical paradox because there is a lot more to literature than that. And when long-winded conversations trail off on digression after digression, the reader has to wonder, what’s the point of me reading any of this? And perhaps some type of compendium of philosophical musings could make for interesting literature but not in most situations. It might be interesting to read about all these different ideas if they weren’t refracted forms of arguments that anyone can hear in an intro to philosophy course. And if underneath all of these “lofty” concerns is a tired story, of say—just as a random example—the story of a public defender that becomes disillusioned by the judicial system, then there is not much keeping the reader hooked into the story itself. This is especially true if any potential for an interesting story that could easily be pulled off in 300 pages is stuffed and clogged down by 378 extra pages that derail the pacing and make sure any moments that achieve some aesthetic pleasure are run into the ground by the incessant talking of its characters. And these characters hardly engage it what could be called conversations because a conversation implies two different minds having an interaction that goes well beyond words, as their motivations and emotion inform the context of the conversations and are not mouth pieces for the author to extoll long digressions on philosophy. This is especially tiresome if said reader has no real interest in just reading philosophy, and instead only finds it interesting when discussed and debated. Said reader might become sick of pouring over page after page of random tidbits and ideas that don’t coalesce in the slightest until having trudged through 600+ long pages and small font. Hearing any single voice drone on and on about their own ideas ad nauseam becomes tiresome very quickly.

And on that note, this reader will turn this discussion over to the comment thread, where perhaps he can have his mind changed by the ever loyal goodreaders that have a passionate love for lesser known modern literature (looking at you Josh).
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,763 followers
January 3, 2013

Let me begin by stating that A Naked Singularity is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in a long time.

Goodreads has turned into a great platform for discovering books both old and new accompanied by varied views and reviews and just around the time I was wondering as to what extent it is being recognized in India, I came across an article in one of our National daily about self-publishing books and how presently crowd is the king in sealing the fate of many such books and Goodreads has become a standout brand for that crowd. There is a gradual reversal of power equations and without any intermediaries (publishers, editors,agents et al), the said power is being redistributed to the authors and readers, the eventual producers and consumers of text and therefore leads to the discovery of enshrouded talent.

Talking about one such talent is the author Sergio De La Pava, a name that might not ring a bell in many ears, and even if it does, the sound at the very least would be a bit distant for most of the people who haven’t read him, but if one tries hard, the sound could not necessarily be life changing, but given a chance, can definitely proves to be a worthwhile experience, something similar to chancing upon a beautiful and pristine landscape that has always been there, but a kind of well kept secret confined to the knowledge of lucky few.

Casi, our protagonist, is a Public Defender who defends the guilty. He is only 24 and throughout his practice, he has never once lost a case. He takes us from the court hearings to his discussions with his colleagues and neighbors, from co-planning a heist to executing it, from boxing to recognizing the Naked Singularities. There are philosophical discourses ranging from:

Existence of God (I know, I know!)

Anyway, the argument is this: God either exists or she doesn’t. I either believe in her, and alter my life accordingly, or I don’t. If I buy into God and it turns out she doesn’t exist I’m at most inconvenienced and maybe disappointed. On the other hand, if I reject God and it turns out she does exist I could potentially be screwed. As a result I decide to hedge my bets and believe in God


A birthday is an odd thing despite being inherently senseless, I’m referring to the way it looks you in the eye and demands retrospection whether you’re willing or not.


When you fail to achieve perfection you don’t create disaster you achieve, at worst, flawed success.

Human Genome Project

Think about that for a minute. Everyone will be attractive, intelligent, athletic.

Racism, war on drugs,corruption in Law enforcement and well almost everything under the sun, but I must commend, that De La Pava’s narration is highly engaging and consistent throughout. The setting of the novel, the Criminal Justice system, is one of its strongest points and is masterfully carried out by De La Pava (A Public Defender himself), who skillfully used his experience and knowledge in explaining the intricacies of the said system in a lucid manner. It has the judicious mix of both usual and unusual or rather I say surreal elements to keep the pace of narrative going in an intriguing way which takes a turn for the better when Casi encountered his first ever defeat and accordingly began realizing the implications of myriad topics which were till now, mainly circumscribed to the discussions he was a mere part of but soon engulfed in the centre-of-the-universe feeling.

Now, as I referred this novel being a beautiful undiscovered landscape, I must admit that along with the presence of beautiful flora, there are some weeds(harmless though) which interrupts its flow, at times in a frustrating manner. There are numerous digressions, but most of them held my interest as at the very beginning the author stated in a meta-style:

And this is as good a time as any for you, gentle reader, to learn that I can wander a bit while storytelling so that the very imminent digressive passage on the judicial creation of Miranda warnings can be entirely skipped by the uncurious without the slightest loss of narrative steam

But still others can test your patience, so…be patient. Occasionally during the various discussions, sometimes it gets difficult to tell whether a character is being smart or over-smart and also many of the involved voices gets mixed up during the whole course that they all begin to sound same especially since the sentences usually doesn’t end with elucidations like Dan said, Angus said, etc., though on paying attention, the difference can be figured out, so a bit more work there for the gentle readers. Around half-way through, I accused the novel of being over-accesorised, where all the elements are wonderful individually, but on putting them together, they didn’t produce a very endearing picture, which is not entirely incorrect but once you get hold of the ‘whole point’ behind Singularity it all starts to make sense, which now brings me to the main purpose behind writing this review.

I have difficulty in defining what consists of a Difficult Literature especially since my ‘difficult’ could be someone’s ‘easy’ and vice-versa. So having given thought to various aspects of the so-called difficult or erudite or elitist literature, this book, by no way is difficult and very much readable. I can’t really relate to incessant comparisons of De La Pava with Pynchon, Joyce, DeLillo, Gaddis and other eggheaded writers. As far as Wallace is concerned, yes the influence is quite apparent but in no way overshadows De La Pava’s originality and let’s face it, not everyone has read those writers and not everyone will.

Comparisons usually give rise to two arguments: one is better than the other and one is not better than the other. The middle path, one is as good as other (a bilateral endorsement) is probably unfair to both the parties involved. The real enjoyment and understanding of a work of art can be derived if we try to view it in isolation of every other similar work and try to focus what we think about its content on an individualistic level. I can’t really tell my philosophies apart. I have opinions, but I keep them to myself, not because I can’t face an opposing view but mainly because, I don’t have people around me to discuss such things with. So in such a situation, when I read a book like ANS, it actually fills that void, where I can ponder upon various questions and their answers, to which either I’ve given some thought to or no thought at all and eventually becomes aware about my unawareness. You either agree with narrator’s point or you don’t, you might end up taking sides or complacently sits in a neutral position but in any case, you’re at a winning end coz it tells you something about yourself. This book made me a winner.

One of the important points I was curious about was its title, which is explained there in and as suspected, it does relate to the astrophysics terminology (you can google it) and how beautifully De La Pava relates it to our lives. In a nutshell, what we really need is a telescopic view and not a microscopic one over the things happening around us and also within us, viscerally that is.

So my point is, that this book can be and should be read or at least given a chance by every wise reader, who likes fast paced, high-energy, insanely funny and deliciously insightful literature. It’s long but not boring, doesn’t have that-can’t-be-a-word kind of vocab and even if you want to skip some parts, it won’t hamper your reading experience. And it is 100% fun guaranteed and your money’s worth (it talks about importance of advertising too, so there!). There are few loose-ends and sporadic instances, but they shouldn’t worry you as they can be easily put together.

I would also like to add that it takes time for any writer before he gains a reputation wherein he can write whatever he wishes to and gets away with it. However, such a luxury is not always afforded by a debut writer and not at all when he’s basically a new and shy kid on the block, so to produce an encyclopedic novel such as this, the risk involved is huge especially since the referred author didn’t want to tamper with a single word of his presumably 1st draft of the book. So on viewing it from an angle that you’re actually reading something pure and first hand, the feeling is completely unmatched. De La Pava possibly wished to find his singularity through his work: I wanted to take all this stuff and put it in a way that would at first feel chaotic. I was interested in the question: at what point does something become a novel?” and I think and hope that he succeeded in finding his answers to a great extent.

Those 5 stars are no result of some prejudice or leniency on my part, but are well based upon the factors which I usually take into account regarding what I like to read and hereby I rest my case.
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books445 followers
April 13, 2018
​This book was transformative. Unfortunately, it transformed me from love to hate in 689 pages.

For about the first quarter of the book I found the style of writing invigorating and the authorial voice original. The narrator is a public defender in New York City, and his scenes with the characters he represents were hilarious, heartbreaking and so absurd that they felt fantastically real.

But then. Over time. As I continued to read, the narrative voice became more and more annoying. And more and more anxiety inducing. Yes, the author was skillful enough to produce emotions in me, however, I'm not sure anxiety was his intention. I actively got stressed picking this book up and by the time I hit about the halfway mark, I began skipping large chunks to see what would happen with the central, if buried, plot line.

What was so annoying about it? Over time, the character voices became artificial to me. The artifice of extended monologues with the occasional not-so-witty banter. It was the monologues that really killed me. All the characters, including the main narrator, would go on long, long, much-too-long unnatural monologues about subjects and ideas that seemed just off from rationality or relevancy. It detracted from the character's believability, for sure, and that can be excused in a book that is obviously experimental and has other values to it outside of plot or character. But Naked Singularity was so character dependent—so heavy in close first person point of view—that I got really sick of being in that POV when it was unnatural. The monologues purported to be somewhat philosophical (profound?) or quirky or intriguing or humorous or insightful or...or I don't know, I just couldn't connect to any of them. They seemed like ramblings of an author who doesn't really have a point. There are many, many pages, for example, featuring the main character's obsession with a champion boxer. I just couldn't care less about this boxer's life story. The author didn't present enough relevancy to justify the excessive detail. I'm sure if I obsessed over every detail of that life story, I could find some thematic connection to the overall novel, but de la Pava never pulled me into the digressions in a way that made me care enough to follow the torturous connection.

Why did it produce anxiety in me? I think partly the endless digressive monologues made me feel tense, because they induced a level of boredom that made me feel anxious to get back to the story. But I think most of all it was the main character Casi's incredibly stupid choices. It was so blatantly obvious that he was headed for a disaster that I just couldn't stand to see it happen. The thread of actual plot versus talking heads is fairly modest, page-count-wise, and that weight actually made it more painful. You have to wade through so many pages of filler digressions before you get to the next chapter of Casi's stupid choices that it increased my anxiety. But not in a good suspenseful way. In a way that just made me want to scream. Oh, and did I mention the main character was rather sickeningly cocky? As was his arrogant partner-in-crime. I also felt tense because the main plot line didn't even really come up until near the halfway point. It started as a character drama, slice of life, and then suddenly becomes a mash-up of author ramblings (in guise of character) with crime thriller. I felt it was a bait and switch. Honestly, even recalling this book makes me anxious. Do not recommend, zero stars.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,107 reviews1,827 followers
May 20, 2012
I remember back about a decade ago when a couple of the big self-publishing companies were pushing their wares one of them used a line something like, "James Joyce was self-published". They were trying to sell you on the idea that if you've written a book, and none of those stodgy publishers are buying it it's possibly because it's a work of genius, like Joyce, and you should give us your money and we will produce a low-quality looking trade paperback for you so that you can be recognized as the genius that you are.

I don't know how many books have been self-published. And I don't know how many novels have been self-published in the last, say fifteen years. It's a big number. Gigantic. A whole lot of crap has been let loose on the world that without self-publishing would be forgotten manuscripts in desk drawers and files on hard-drives destined for wherever it is that hard-drives in computers go when you bring them to environmentally friendly places to get rid of your obsolete computers.

But then there are the exceptions.

There are the two books of Evan Dara, which came out of nowhere and is up there with some of the best stuff written in the past decade and a half or so (or at least his first novel is, I haven't read the second one yet, but I have it on good authority that it's as good if not better than the first). And then there is this book. I don't know the exact publishing history of it. Did Sergio De La Pava try to sell it to publishers? I can't imagine the editors of somewhere like McSweeney's getting this and say, no, we'll pass. I imagine (although I could do some research, but fuck that) that it was just self-published. It feels like the kind of book that the author knew was awesome and just decided to unleash it on the world himself, quietly.

I wish a few years ago he had found me someway, like he did some other people on goodreads and offered me up his book. His book is what I secretly was hoping the Zweig book Swimming in the Sun would have been, especially when I got an email from the 'publisher' saying that this is for fans of DFW and similar writers to him. I was picturing the second coming of an Evan Dara like author. I had high hopes. They were dashed. You should read my review, I know this is shameless self-promotion, but it's sort of the fear I felt when I first saw this book on the shelf at work, and saw the pedigree it had.

Guess what though? This won't be a surprise if you've seen any of my ejaculations I made in status updates, but here it goes. This book delivers. Yep! There is another great writer out there and another big book to fall in love with. There is one more person to shove in the face of any dimwit who pompously pontificates about the low quality of literature today, and how the only good writers are safely stored six feet underground and living with insects today.

Maybe there is some irony that this book has quietly shown up, re-published by the University of Chicago, on bookshelves during the same month that Vintage (fuck you Random House, seriously Fuck you. Fine you bought the fucking trash that everyone wants to read right now, but did you have to publish it on your imprint that usually designates quality? Philip Roth, Julian Barnes, Jean-Paul Sartre, Cormac McCarthy, and 50 Shades of Grey. Just fuck off) re-published, well, you know, that series of books. Oh, in a just world this would be the book everyone was falling over themselves to read. That is why I've suspended my usual 'not-recommending' you read books I strongly like or love and I've been actively pushing this book on just about anyone that will listen. I don't know if you will love this book, you might not, maybe you'll feel lukewarm to it, but I do think it should be read, word needs to spread! There is something a little bit exciting about this book, and I feel the urge to share that excitement with you. This might not happen again for awhile.

But, Greg, is this really a five star book? Or is this another of your books that the sheer idea of the book boosts up the actual rating at least one star level?

You might have gotten me there. The first Part of the book is five star worthy. It's amazing. It's DFW level good. The second third of the book is also very good, maybe not quite as consistently great, but it's really good. And the third part is good but with some reservations. In my opinion the book sort of runs out of steam during the last part, but not in a way that negates everything great that came before it. There are some great scenes and dialogue in the last part, but there is a bit missing from the earlier parts of the book. This shouldn't dissuade you from running out to a bookstore right now and picking up a copy of this and then immediately running back home and sitting down in the most comfortable place that you do your reading, maybe bring a beverage with you and dive right into the book. If the forty pages or so that make up the first chapter don't leave you thinking something, holy shit I didn't realize my life was as incomplete as it was before reading this, how has this existed in the universe for four fucking years and I'm only now just hearing about it, I might have to tweet about this new sense of wholeness I'm feeling because I have now begun to read this! If you don't feel something similar to this you should run back to the bookstore with your receipt and return the book and tell the cashier some lame excuse about getting home and finding out that your aunt just sent you a copy of this, and then use the store credit they reward you with (you will not be one of the lucky ones to get the money put back on your card, or cash) to buy 50 Shades of Grey and spend the extra few bucks that makes up the difference in price on some latte and sit in the bookstore cafe and show off how with it to the other customers.

That is what you should do.

What is the book about? A young public defender named Casi is on an impressive winning streak when it comes to going to trial. There are details about what the NYC court system is like, especially at the low level where people use public defenders instead of being able to afford lawyers of their own. There is The Wire worthy descriptions of the 'the game'. There are Gaddis like dialogues (but not nearly as difficult (I mean demanding) as say JR), there is a heist and there is a history lesson about 1980's era middle (not Middle, but just somewhere between the real little guys and the real big guys middle) weight (average weight? whose average?) boxing. There is also some Television thrown in! (I kind of hated that he capitalized Television, it was one of the things that I imagined would have been changed by an editor if the book had been produced by a publisher, it kind of felt funny. It felt like the kid who sat next to me in some philosophy class who ended all his papers with "...", because you know there is never a last word said on a subject, there is always more to say. It felt sort of like that, and that feeling is kind of embarrassing, even if you aren't the one committing the kind of juvenile display. Maybe you can think of other writing ticks that fall into this kind of category? Maybe some of the ways that I ramble, or the defensive posture I take by refusing to edit any of my reviews as if to say, you can't judge me for being a piss-poor piece of shit writer because this shit 'aint even edited, motherfucker, as if my edited work would be any better, or maybe that I use too many fucking curse words, and I could just as easily say pick up a thesaurus and try to broaden my vocabulary and the richness of my reviews instead of saying dirty words so often. Or maybe my tendency to diffuse any criticism by pointing out what I'm doing wrong while I'm doing it, an act I hate in other writers but which I have a feeling I'm guilty of more often then I imagine, i.e., not just in this instance).

I might come back to this review one day and add some more substance, but really all you need to know is that this is going to be the next big book that cool kids will own but quite possibly not read, and that will be on everyone's goodread shelves, and it's probably best to jump on this bandwagon now, because you can't go back and be one of the few who learned of this while it was floating around in near oblivion, but you can still get in on this shit early and you know you'll think you'll cooler if you were reading this before it's a mandatory accessory on the L train.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,178 reviews9,222 followers
September 30, 2013
Whatever anyone else says, this is a collection of mostly autobiographical writing by an extremely likeable Columbian American lawyer which he decided might as well be a novel as anything else, and because a novel can be pretty much any long stretch of prose you want to give that name to (there are many novels that are just as unnovellike as this one, or even more), everyone has agreed, sure, it’s a novel, what else could it be? Well, I think it’s an entertainingly digressive memoir! That’s what it is! I will bet 100 of your American dollars that hardly any of this stuff is made up - these elephantine conversations between Casi/Sergio and his friends will be versions of actual conversations, these apparent transcripts of passages from trials are, I strongly suspect, from Sergio’s own cases and, for instance, I believe that Sergio did go and visit someone on Death Row once, so we get many many pages about that. And comic digressions about a NYC blackout and sadistic experiments on rats. All true, I bet.

Another indication that Mr de la Pava is not your regular novelist is that all of the participants in the longwinded brainy colloquies talk in exactly the same voice. Like this typical rant :

Here’s a person who can’t get through a single day without chemical assistance. This despite the fact that his day consists of wearing an Italian suit and tapping keys from an ergonomically designed chair in an airtight, temperature-controlled office then after work stopping by Citarella to pick up some freshly baked peasant bread to compliment his dinner overlooking the arboreal serenity visible from his apartment on Central Park West. That’s the life he leads yet he can’t abstain but he’s perfectly willing to judge harshly people who share their beds with rats, use their ovens to heat their apartments, and so turn to admittedly stronger chemical distractions. What do you say about a situation where the Citarella people control the fate of the oven-heated people and use that power to cage them for behavior they themselves engage in?

(Don’t know about you but I can read that kind of stuff till the cows come home, although it’s nothing we haven’t encountered in Tom Wolfe or Philip Roth many times over.)

And another is that a propos of nothing at all, he will shove in 15 detailed pages about the rise and fall of Puerto Rican boxer Wilfred Benitez if he damn well feels like it.

Or a recipe for a delicious Colombian casserole. Or a 20 page narrative poem. Go Sergio! It's your damned book!

After rambling around with leisurely lawyerly debate, discussion, digression and diatribe (this book shows you can have a leisurely diatribe) with a couple of My Crazy Columbian Family interludes and recipes and whatall we get to page 400 (longer than many actual novels) before there is any whisper, any scintilla, any forensic trace of anything as lowly as a plot.

But there is a plot, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeventually, all about ripping off some drug dealers. Oh really? Really. Even this, I can argue, is not made up. I can easily believe that our author – the lawyer – contemplated doing exactly this thing once, when he and his lawyer mate were cracking a couple of cold ones, and they realised they were in possession of information from a client which no one else knew they knew, information about the exact time and place, the large amount of dough involved, and so on. All the lovely details. And so…. Wouldn’t it be wild if… if we actually… yes, us, two young lawyers…

When the plot gets going, it’s a half-hearted affair, like our author figured he’d better shove something plotlike in to his nearly 900 pages to kind of show willing. And the plot is the worst thing about this book. I wish he’d not have bothered. I liked all the randomness and wanderings and daft conversations.

Question : Did you care about any of the characters?

Answer : No, not for one tiny second. Really only two characters elevated themselves above faint pencil sketches and became identifiable, and one of those was our first person author.

Question (irritated): Did it make you laugh?

Answer : I think two chuckles. But he does quote one of the all time best quotes I ever saw:

“If you could live forever, would you and why?”

"I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,"
--Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.

Question (tartly) : So cut the crap, do you recommend it or don’t you?

Answer (downcast eyes) : Well… hmmm…. It’s okay….it’s quite entertaining. I... I never got bored – does that help? It's a real long time reading not to be bored, hmmm ? (looks up, piercing blue eyes, hopeful grin with quizzical eyebrow)

Question (with sneer): You know, that couldn’t be mistaken for a ringing endorsement. What about all these rave reviews? Look at these blurbs – “a propulsive, mind-bending experience”…”a cross between Descartes and Disneyland”…”Casi’s voice is astonishing”…”one of the best and most original novels of the decade”…”Crime and Punishment as reimagined by the Coen Brothers”

Answer (adopting increasingly patrician tone): Those blurby blurbs. The bane of our lives! Have these people never actually read any great American novels? This book is really not the bolt of lightning, the bold new voice, the astonishing debut, the misunderstood masterpiece, the challenging new-DFW-on-the-block, none of that, none of that. This novel is vastly nice. It’s enormously amiable. It’s excellent company. But only if you like lawyers who are nerdy, in love with their lawyerliness, with big liberal hearts, and whose speaking parts have absolutely no cut-off switch.
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,319 reviews2,192 followers
December 28, 2019
The epic American novel re-invented, that's worth every one of it's 864 pages. A post modernistic breakdown of John Grisham's legal thriller, Elmore Leonard's crime caper, Scorsese's New York, early Tarantino, and even a sprinkle of Ocean's Eleven, all infused with a Voltairian sensibility. Reads like an HBO series that would leave you wanting the box-set. Hugely ambitious, confident and precise in it's inventive storytelling with moments that are equally gripping, poignant and funny. Certain courtroom proceedings are often hilarious including one involving the mispronunciation of a name that had me laughing inside. There is a hell of a lot of dialogue which takes up a massive percentage resulting in a quick and snappy pacing that not only works so well but helps take huge chunks out of it's length where you could quite easily get through 50-100 pages in no time and wonder where they had gone. The final third is set up perfectly that it really is hard to put down!

It's length bothered me at first, but in the end I couldn't think of too many moments that were boring. Occasionally the narrative was unevenly balanced, mainly during the middle third. The fact that De La Pava is actually a real life public defender in New York City, which is certainly his expertise, tends to see him at times get lost in his own world, that spills over a little too much. But this could also be seen as a blessing because the attention to detail regarding the New York criminal legal system is quite fascinating. As first novels go it's a great effort, and as he handles up to 80 cases at a time I'm amazed he managed to write something so long in between his work commitments. He says of himself, "The stakes are a lot higher in that world than whether or not my book gets attention. On a given day, I have someone who really needs my help on a serious matter."

Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,955 followers
December 26, 2019
I would imagine most of us have at some point thought of writing a novel and I would imagine most of us have come unstuck at the idea of finding a form for our ideas. To some extent De La Pava solves this problem by doing away with form. He just writes about what's on his mind until late in the 864 page novel when he throws in a rather lame plot.

De La Pava was a defence attorney in New York and so is his narrator. Early on, we get a fascinating insight into the cases he's working on, any one of which would serve to dramatise how cynical and mercantile is the American justice system. Often hapless individuals doing no harm to anyone except themselves coaxed by undercover law enforcement agents to commit some petty crime and then facing ten to fifteen years in prison as if they were bred for no other purpose. It's a shame he didn't take up one of these cases and make this the overriding theme of his novel. But De La Pava, though a very likeable individual, is far too narcissistic not to place himself at the centre of the story. And so we get lots of very long winded existential dialogues where he appears to be talking to himself - half his characters come across as variants of himself and on this evidence creating characers isn't his strong point. And we get surreal dream sequences and rather dull family scenes together with a long account of the career of a relatively unknown boxer. All recounted with prevailing stand-up comedian aspirations. When he and a fellow attorney get wind of the details of a massive drug deal about to take place they decide to intervene and take the money. This is the rather lame plot called upon to give the novel some semblance of form.

De La Pava is a decent writer though his prose stylistically isn't very interesting. I wasn't often bored but on the whole I struggled to understand what all the fuss is about. It did though make we want to return to David Foster Wallace who, you sense, is De La Pava's overriding influence.
Profile Image for Edward.
417 reviews392 followers
August 23, 2019
I was skeptical when I read the back cover, which in a single quoted sentence compares the author to Voltaire, Melville, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and Hemingway. While the comparison is amusingly excessive, it is true that this book is in fact, the real deal.

What’s incredible is that this novel was written by an actual, real-life New York public defender. That’s incredible because: a) the novel is not what you’d expect from someone writing about his profession – sure, it reflects a intimate relationship with the job and is deeply entrenched in its inner workings, but it’s not a procedural – it constantly breaks out of itself to explore the wider universe, in the way that all truly great novels do (in this, I am myself reminded of Melville, as well as Mann); and b) Sergio de la Pava can really write - not just competent sentences, but hold together such an sprawling, expansive, encompassing narrative, a true melting pot of literary influences, highly original and creative, so full of passion and intertextuality.

Yes, there are times that the writing style is slightly odd, and one could argue that the dialogue on the whole is not congruent to how real people speak to each other. But these are superficial criticisms. What comes through in this work is – and contrast this with the majority of works in the PoMo category - an overwhelming sense of honesty and sincerity. It’s the spirit of someone who loves to dream, who takes pleasure in the act of creation, who is not self-servingly seeking the heights of literary form, but merely searching for sincere self-expression.

Arguably, A Naked Singularity is not as polished as many of the works it can be compared to, and from which it clearly draws influence: the DeLillos and DFWs of the world. Compared to these it is something of a rough diamond. But it certainly belongs in the same class.
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book968 followers
September 6, 2012
In a June, 2012 article written for The Millions, author Garth Risk Hallberg details a discussion with Sergio De La Pava in a Brooklyn coffee house. Commenting on de la Pava’s self imposed public occlusion, Hallberg writes, “For someone so reticent with the public, he talks abundantly and well, his thoughts tending to organize themselves into fluid, almost lawyerly paragraphs of narrative and argument, with these little hard-boiled explosions at the climax.” The interview continues with De La Pava weighing in a multitude of subjects, from a five minute opinion on Rabassa’s translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude to a linear representation of the structure of Beethoven’s Ninth scrawled impromptu on the back of a magazine. By the end of the article it’s easy to understand that De La Pava is a very smart, perhaps even brilliant, man. But with all of that intelligence, and the need to convey information on such a wide array of topics, the discussion began to feel claustrophobic with too much insight – too many Deep Thoughts. And unfortunately, that’s exactly how A Naked Singularity felt for too much of its narrative.

Throughout his novel De La Pava wants to be certain that we are aware of his many Deep Thoughts. This isn’t done with subtlety, it is done with a hammer and anvil between quotation marks. Whether it’s the protagonist or any number of secondary characters, a discussion will suddenly devolve into a multi-page scree on Time, Money, Poverty, &c. The narrative stops at these points while we learn, sometimes apropos of nothing, a pet Deep Thought of the author - delivered as a soliloquy and without interruption from any of the other actors on stage.

There are times when the dialogue interactions between characters work – especially when they are devoid of the soliloquies. In the first third of the novel there are a couple of funny moments and interchanges that are nicely written. Over the length of the complete work, however, the same verbal misdirection jokes, or confused conversation participants become threadbare, almost sophomoric. Like hearing slightly different retellings of the same joke, it gets old quick.

Sergio De La Pava can certainly write, but if there was ever a case to show aspiring authors why a good editor is so important in the creation process, this novel would be Exhibit A. I imagine that his second novel had an editor, and if his talents displayed in this book were improved for his next work, my guess is that Personae is a much better read.

The best thing about this book is that it reminded my just how little time we have in our lives to read the books we can't wait to devour. When I finished this book I felt shamed that I spent the time to read this book when I haven't even read The Brothers Karamazov yet. I'm coming for you, Fyodor. Hide the peasants.
Profile Image for trivialchemy.
77 reviews456 followers
December 30, 2015
THE PEOPLE: May it please The Court, ladies and gentlemen of Goodreads, defense counsel, Mr. de la Pava. This book review is about crass opportunism. It is about two very different books. The first book builds plot, character and narrative force in the tradition of realism; the second gives in to the tropes of post-modernism.


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: In October of 2008, the man hyperlinked above, Sergio de la Pava, self-published a massive, 678-page novel on XLibris for the sum of $10,000; a work that he would later get published by the scholarly University of Chicago Press.


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: The way that he got the book so published was simple.


THE COURT: Overruled, but do confine yourself to what this book review will discuss.

THE PEOPLE: In this review you will hear from Isaiah. This gentleman will testify that this book contains a seeming endless parade of disconnected ideas and intellectual, navel-gazing digressions. He will testify that this book contains, among other things: a recipe for empanadas, a chess opening, continuous references to David Lewis’ modal realism, a bloody heist and multiple decapitations, a brief depiction of the relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner, and nearly 40 distributed pages discussing the boxing career of Puerto Rican Wilfred Benitez.

But most importantly, Isaiah will testify that this book contains the most irritating trope of post-modernism of all: the use of the theories of quantum mechanics in narrative development. As an accredited physicist, imagine Isaiah’s intense irritation upon hearing the misuse of perfectly concrete mathematics to motivate explanations of subjectivity and awareness.


THE COURT: Overruled. Continue, please.

THE PEOPLE: Isaiah will testify that the idea of probabilistic wavefunction collapse in quantum mechanics is no more mysterious than the idea of probability in the roll of a die, and is useless in explaining the radical subjectivity of human experience in a mechanistic universe. Similarly, a “Singularity” is a robust mathematical entity indicating a density distribution approaching a Dirac delta function. Imagine for a moment then how improper for de la Pava to use these entities to metaphorize both the collapse of meaning and subjectivity in his protagonist’s universe as well as – by extension – the limits of his art itself.


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: He will testify that as he read deeper and deeper into this massive novel, he began to wonder to himself if these many digressions served any greater function to the novel at all. Were the various rambling, philosophical excursus of his characters actually developing for the reader the psyches and motivations of these characters, or were they merely serving as dummy mouthpieces for the author’s scattershot world-view?


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: You will hear from Slate Magazine’s Paul Ford, who calls this book “unapologetically maximalist.” He will testify that the reader increasingly feels like a juror in a sort of Kafkaesque trial, where the contents of de la Pava’s mind are on trial more than the chronological passage of events themselves, as would occur in the novelistic tradition of realism.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection, your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: He will further testify that the ending of this book is ambiguous. After this review, The Court will instruct the jury that at the end of Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre gets married. At the end of War and Peace, War ends, with Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. At the end of Moby Dick, Moby Dick sinks the Pequod. What happens at the end of A Naked Singularity is left at least partially up to the reader to decide. According to the rules of reviewing, if you don’t know what happens at the end of the book, you should only give that book three stars.


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: Such a belligerent departure from realism can only be rewarded with three stars.


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: This is a three-star book.


THE COURT: Overruled.

THE PEOPLE: At the end of this review, I will be asking you to click the only star that is consistent with post-modern tropes, the abuse of philosophy and science in developing the author’s abstract conception of art, and gross departures from realism. That is the third star in the line of five stars. To the only count in the indictment of three-star review, I will be asking you to return the verdict of three-stars. Thank you.

THE COURT: Thank you. Counsel, will you be making an opening statement?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I will, but can we approach first?


DEFENSE COUNSEL: Very well, though slightly bizarre.

Goodreads, the defense’s case is a simple one, and eminently clear. It requires no understanding of abstract nuances of the various novelist traditions, nor the slightest understanding of, much less an opinion on, matters of contemporary physical theory.

The defense’s only witness will be that of Isaiah, who found himself less than a week ago almost 50-pages into the execrable Blue Mars. Isaiah will testify that he was reading this book not because of any joy or interest it was generating, but because he read the first two books in the trilogy and felt obligated to read the third.

Yes, Goodreaders. Obligated.

Isaiah will further testify that he saw this book on his shelf and decided to crack it open in a moment of distraction from his reading of the execrable Blue Mars. Time logs for the subsequent week recorded by the witness will indicate that Isaiah proceeded to ignore all school, work, and personal obligations while devoting every free moment to reading this book.

In short, ladies and gentlemen of Goodreads, this book restored Isaiah’s faith in what a good book is, and what it means to fall in love with a story and the frantic mind that generated it. The court of Goodreads will then instruct the jury on star-bestowing convention, which states that when a reader is in despair of ever getting lost in a book again, and then a book comes along that shatters his ennui and reminds him why literature (in an important sense) gives life meaning, rather than the other way around – then that book should be given five stars. Thank you.

(Whereupon, the jurors leave the courtroom)

THE COURT: See you both at 9:30 sharp tomorrow.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I need to make a record.

THE COURT: Make it tomorrow.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: No, I need to make it now.

THE COURT: Regarding what?

DEFENSE COUNSE: Before starting this review, you indicated that we, meaning the attorneys, would not be permitted to state a basis for our objections. I complied with that directive during the prosecutor’s wholly improper opening statement when I made many objections, all of which were denied. As I said at the time, I strongly object to this rule, which I feel prevents me from making an appellate record. Goodreads is clear in requiring that objections within a review must have a stated basis in order to preserve fairness in book reviewing.

THE COURT: I am aware of the Goodreads Terms of Service’s feelings on the matter, counsel.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I’m glad to hear that. Although I fear it will be of little consolation to Sergio de la Pava when his book is handed down three stars and he is effectively denied his right to appeal.

For the record presently being entered, the reasons for my objections were these in order. The DA began by making reference to the novelistic tradition of realism then proceeded to circuitously but unmistakably contrast it with a completely fabricated tradition of “post-modernism” alleged to my client. This is objectionable for several reasons not least of which include it being an attempt to prejudice a Goodreads jury extremely well-read in the realist tradition. Moreover, I feel confident in assuming, and the DA can correct me if I’m somehow wrong, that in this review no attempt will actually be made to define what exactly “post-modernism” means. When Kundera breaks the fourth wall to discuss, conversationally, the psychological motivations of Tomáš in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, does this indicate a meta-fictional construct whereby the author’s own subjectivity enters into the narrative trajectory? Or is it simply a later stage of the omniscient narrator in realism? Nor would a discussion of these nuances even be conceivably admissible of course, being wholly irrelevant to the reader’s enjoyment of the novel. That objection was overruled without any comment or limiting instruction.

The DA then made improper reference to the book’s initial self-publication and subsequent publication by the, and here I use the DA’s own words, “scholarly University of Chicago Press.” Besides being wholly irrelevant, as a novel’s colophon at best peripherally indicates the class of contents therein, these references were an open attempt to prejudice the entire cross-section of Goodreads readership, as those accustomed to filling their shelves with the Penguin Classics will naturally recoil at the mention of Xlibris, while those more inclined to reading Twilight and Harry Potter will of course instinctively scorn an excessively scholarly press out of hand. That objection was overruled as well without any comment or limiting instruction.

The next objection was based on the fact that the DA was essentially testifying during his opening rather than making reference to what the review would show. Again that was overruled. The subsequent objection can be characterized as an attempt by the DA to create sympathy on the part of Goodreaders in the hopes that they will base their opinion of this book on their feelings about the excessive use or misuse of philosophizing and references to contemporary physical theory in novels, rather than on a holistic judgment of the novel’s effectiveness as a whole due to the uniqueness of the authorial voice actually in this case being complemented by rambling digressions on philosophical positions and tongue-in-cheek attempts to connect human morality to the increasing warmth seen in popular perceptions of modern science which nevertheless (and ironically) remains a sterile endeavor. I’m referring here specifically to the prosecutor’s reference to science as a “trope of post-modernism” and Isaiah’s “intense irritation.”

The prosecutor then segued from Isaiah’s irrelevant emotional response to a contrast between science/mathematics and philosophy/subjectivity themselves, in no case attempting to convey to Goodreaders what de la Pava’s personal epistemology might actually be. Of course, any close reading of the novel discovers that the relationship before the aforementioned contrasted entities is complex and, while it is true that part of the novel’s effectiveness relies on a metaphorical connection between vague ideas of science and vague ideas of subjective experience, de la Pava also comically mocks even the earliest attempts to draw subjectivity into science:
”As for this Hume character, what does he know? When did he write? The fucking thirteen-hundreds? What did he write on? Fucking papyrus? Fuck him. He’s just bitter that science has completely co-opted his cheesy field.”
Needless to say, I was not permitted to enter this contrasting perspective on science into the record.

For his next trick, the DA told the jurors the substantive content of Isaiah’s thoughts as he read the book. The law is clear that not only is this hearsay, but in this case is a bizarre, telepathic variety. Obviously the DA cannot do himself in an opening statement what he would not be permitted to do through a witness at trial.

The prosecutor then stated to the Goodreaders what Paul Ford may or may not have said in regards to the novel in a separate Slate Magazine review. Unless basic evidence law is going to be disregarded in this book review, Mr. Ford will not be permitted to offer opinion evidence, regarding the suitability of the length of the book or otherwise, unless he is first qualified as an expert. He has not been qualified as one, and based upon the articles I have been reading on Slate recently, including November 23rd’s “Why are Bigfoot Rumors so Persistent?” and “Baby Experts you should Definitely Ignore,” I would be strongly objecting to any such qualification, so the DA’s comment was at best objectionable as premature.

Lastly, I objected three times when the DA, after revealing the ending of no less than four novels to include that of my client without so much as a spoiler warning, repeatedly instructed Goodreads on what star-ruling it should hand down, and do so inaccurately in my view.

The fact that the DA continuously resorted to these improper comments evinces either a profound ignorance of reviewing custom, tradition, and courtesy, or a malevolent disregard for the same. More troubling is that each of my highly meritorious objections was overruled and the improper comment allowed to stand without any kind of limiting instruction. Moreover, I was then denied the opportunity to approach the Goodreads court to fully explain these objections at a time when an appropriate remedy could conceivably still be fashioned. Accordingly, the only proper remedy after such an inflammatory and prejudicial opening statement is an immediate mis-review, which is what I am moving for now.

THE COURT: Denied. Anything further?

THE PEOPLE: Your Honor, if I may respond.

THE COURT: No need. Defense counsel’s application is denied. Anything else, counsel?


THE COURT: Then I’ll see you both at 9:30 tomorrow.

(Whereupon all parties exit)
Profile Image for Gregsamsa.
73 reviews343 followers
July 30, 2014
"It turns out that when you read you don't really take note of each individual letter. Instaed it seems your mind fills in details in service of a greater schematic...."

There was no way I was going to read this. When I started coming across some of the hype, the rapturous praise and excited descriptions were very similar--down to particular phrases and lists--to those heaped on a book called The End of Mr. Y and I got burned on that deal. Bad. I won't go into that here (as I already have, here) but I was very leery of boring into another fat book full of digressions, "idea-heavy" side-tours through philosophy, physics, pop culture, and ethics but also promising adventure and lively satire of our media-saturated lives. As I am bone-saggingly weary of complaints about information-saturation and not knowing what's real anymore, I found it enjoyable to read A Naked Singularity as a parody of this modern yet already-tired malaise. I'm indifferent as to whether this is what the author intended.

I'm going to resist comparing Sergio de la Pava to that familiar list of PoMo dudes for whom we would already have an acronym if a few of them had had the decency to change their last names to ones that begin with vowels. I'm going out to (far-) left field to find a different comparison.

One of the common complaints about Gore Vidal is that all his characters sound alike, and they often do: a quirky blend of arch and formal with sassy and conversational much like, well, Gore Vidal. The pre-structured speechifying and unrealistically well-thought-out verbal performances get on the nerves of people who want their dialog to be more realistic, which is of course actually a desire for equally stylized unrealistic dialog that is rendered in more familiar, conventional ways. Praise be to the muses: books rarely attempt the maddeningly elliptical, discursive, repetitive, gap-filled, repetitive, poorly-structured, repetitive blather that actual day-to-day conversation is. Record a day's worth and transcribe it if you don't believe me.

De la Pava's voice is unique, a zesty combo much like Vidal's, as a freewheeling vernacular is given bones and gravity by a sharp intellect and an almost comic precision. Despite the constant grasping toward the most perspicuous and crystalline expressions possible, de la Pava's characters still find mutual understanding elusive.

"Join me in this and learn what it means to truly exhaust a potentiality."
"No, sounds great though. Meaning do it, what do you need me for?"
"Because people like us don't stem from trees. I see it in you. The air encircling you is suffused with the same longing I animate daily, the same contempt that you orbit the sun and not the other way around, making you the perfect person for me to do this with."
"Wrong, because as I've iterated repeatedly I don't believe perfection can be achieved. That pessimism alone should disqualify me."

It is not true, though, that all his characters sound alike. Only the main ones do. The minor players mostly speak through a haze of dialect and major ESL problems, loaded with slang and sayings that have forgotten themselves and mutated toward similar phrasings of unrelated meaning.

"The only side that was bright in all this, I'm serious the only silver lining that was cloudy, was that I had this man right here as my lawyer."

These are nearly all members of the underclass for whom our Public Defender protagonist Casi struggles valiantly for little reward, but when they are allowed to speak a little more than usual even they take on a touch of the tongue of the book's more educated characters.

"DEFENDANT: Then I want to stipulate that the person who gave me the dollar, my co-defendant, is in here and he has made it be known to me, through the proper channels and whatnot, that he wants his dollar back because I bought him a cop as a customer. And I also want it stipulated that the street interpretation of that is that he will cause physical pain unto me if he gets the opportunity."

Personally, I have no problem with this but if you're irritated by such then this is not a book for you. Ditto if you ever find yourself shouting "get back to the action!" at a book that gets bogged down in conversations that do not provide exposition regarding the plot.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is an impressively researched burrowing through NYC's criminal justice system, rarely coming up among the high-drama peaks of a TV crime series but rather meandering through the absurdist tedium through which human beings are processed into something less than. The second section broadens the scope of the satire to popular culture, the media, relationships, social mores, and the strange things that happen to stuff like Science and Philosphy when brought down to the day-to-day level. It establishes that Casi's present state is untenable and escape is vital. The third section shifts the book into full caper mode in pursuit of that escape. This is the first book I've ever read to strike a successful balance between entertaining digressions and actual suspense. It may be the first I've read to even attempt that.

I found the book's treatment of media and popular culture to be mercifully light, the point of jokes and writerly tricks rather than the subject of any satirical social diagnoses, often part of a descriptive technique at once idiosyncratic and vivid:

"The heavily-made-up women all wore indecent-exposure-short skirts and heels in the smack of winter and looked like they should be elegantly twirling their hands in the vicinity of A New Car."

One minor downside is that some of the discursive philosophical conversations call to mind dorm rooms and late nights, but even in the few more sophomoric exchanges there are bright spots, as when a discussion of Pascal's wager breezily lights upon a central flaw often passed over in many more sophisticated analyses:

"...an all-knowing God would know our selfish motivation and as a result fail to credit us."
Profile Image for Drew.
238 reviews121 followers
June 29, 2012
Incredible. Infinite Jest's furious attention to detail, The Recognitions's interminable yet fascinating (pseudo)intellectual dialogues, and Crime and Punishment's psychological acuity all brought together in service of a plot that seems at first to mirror the incremental moral decay of The Heart of the Matter.

Not to say that A Naked Singularity is better than all or any of these novels. But the fact that it's brought together all these elements without imploding like its namesake makes it something truly unique. I probably can't write any sort of analysis until I've read it a second time, so for the time being I'll leave this review as a wholehearted recommendation to anyone who's not afraid of 700 pages.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
817 reviews753 followers
April 30, 2012
This blazing, colossal creation was originally self-published by a vanity press in 2008, and left to hang in obscurity for four years. Here’s the author’s bio:

“Sergio De La Pava is a writer who does not live in Brooklyn.”

Consider that Brooklyn is the writer’s writers’ colony of Pulitzer and other award-stamped writers, the borough of billboard blockbusters and earnest publicity favorites scratching out their lines between the lines of the backlit white box. And, all this time, La Pava was under the radar, his brain a sapient submarine with the torqued turbines whirring, writing the most spectacular linguistic blitzkrieg of a novel that I have encountered in the past decade (or more). Too bad publicity counts for so much, because the only introduction he needs is this phenomenal, audacious, achingly humane book to speak for itself.

It reads like defiance with a deep, scalding, tender, moral center. As in David Foster Wallace’s INFINITE JEST, it is full of subversive philosophical digressions and anarchic linguistic feats, while invoking the acute probity that penetrated and pervaded Wallace’s seminal work of postmodern fiction. But he does not mimic DFW. De La Pava has his own style that also pays homage to Wallace, as well as others such as Pynchon and Gaddis, but other than recognizing that he is the literary stepson or nephew or cousin to this group of writers, you observe that he is the master of his own insurgent narrative.

How refreshing that the back cover of the novel doesn’t spell out the plot and spoil the adventure of discovery. My intention is to just give a whiff, provoke you to read this book. If you like unconventional, genre-bending, linguistic acrobatics, you’ll delight in this novel. De La Pava combines a bracing book of ideas with a thrilling crime caper, which is at the root of the novel’s digressions. So if you also want a driven, page-turning, heated suspense, you will be blissed out with the white-knuckle, fist-clenching plot at the center of the story.

You follow twenty-four-year-old Casi (no last name given) in every scene, a brilliant public defender in the Manhattan criminal justice system, circa 2002 (but it never states that). There’s lots of dialogue—it actually begins with a typical day at work for Casi, with dialogue as the main narrative thrust, and the injustices of the justice system a scorching context that is so absurd as to be authentic. Wait—actually, it is so authentic as to be absurd. Anyway, it is ripe and thoroughly engaging with easy access right from the pages to the courthouse. If you like THE WIRE, you will like this breezy but blistering exchange of voices. Casi’s negotiations with drug-addled, impoverished criminals and nefarious judges illuminate just how inverted and perverted morality and justice can be. It’s an unfiltered colloquy that self-critiques with its nakedness, and reads unplugged like the basement tapes of the New York justice system.

Don’t forget it has a sinewy, chewy center. You won’t be able to breathe as you get nearer and nearer and then immerse in the wily, implausible, but believable and mad, madcap, tense, intense, heart-racing, unstoppable mischievous pole vault of tomfoolery at its core. Oh, and the beauty, the unutterable beauty of the novel as a whole.

De La Pava’s novel radiates a rogue nobility and optimism through all the muck--humanity eclipsing the corruption and toxicity of bureaucracy and entertainment, Television with a capital T, justice with a capital punishment. It hits the upper and lower registers of the heart and soul with a moving potency. De La Pava can talk about anything and make it interesting. I am now well-informed about middleweight boxing, a sport I had no interest in before, but the author blends it in like allegory.

Casi is flawed, as are all these true-to-life and larger-than-life characters, but graced with a clemency and charm that is displayed when he is with his family, mostly Colombian immigrants with a rich vernacular and sumptuous recipe for empanadas. Casi’s interactions with family serve as a luminous contrast to his work life, adding a dimension of emotional vulnerability to Casi’s character that also kindles and reflects his conscience.

Imagine what this encyclopedic novel can encompass and it is probably there. Philosophy, media, crime, entertainment, love, intelligence, The Honeymooners, boxing, psychology, physics and more. The author navigates the 21st century without including cell phones, computers (and emails), and no mention of 9/11! Yay!

This book is a recipe for singular pleasure, enjoyable whether naked or clothed. Remarkable, towering, darkly comical, heartbreaking. Free of petty homilies and clichés, leave your platitudes at the door.
Profile Image for Chris Via.
463 reviews1,343 followers
April 23, 2018
This is the most satisfying reading experience I've had since I kicked off 2016 with The Recognitions . This is a significant achievement for a thirty-eight-year-old lawyer (born in 1970, Sergio de la Pava self-published this novel in 2008 via XLibris) and a testament to an individual's vision over the strictures and biases of the marketplace. Like The Recognitions , You Bright and Risen Angels , V. , and, more recently, Novel Explosives , A Naked Singularity is a constituent of a tradition of debut novels that shatters conventions and expectations. Pava reaches wildly for every pulsing fiber of life, transforms it into metaphor, analyses it exhaustively, and pins it to his specimen board like an obsessive lepidopterist. The result, an 864-page novel (in the hardcover MacLehose Press edition), is a museum of twenty-first century consciousness.

If there is one thing that can be said about this hefty tome, it is that, unlike many books billed as such, it is savagely hilarious. I'm not talking about a quippy little amused-chortle-and-forgotten type of humor; I mean, Pava is obviously quite comical and it shines through on page after page. And the humor is wide-ranging, too, not just the same brand of puns or off-the-way-bananas gags. No, this book offers all kinds of comedic entertainment from pitch-perfect deadpan sarcasm to the utterly side-splitting 10-page episode involving Señor Smoke burritos. I'm not sure I ever laughed so hard in my life as stilted lawyerly locution is brought to bear on a bathetic scatological scandal. For the most part, though, the laughing gas is served up at small, quick clips while the narrative races you headlong toward the conclusion.

The protagonist, apparently a stand-in for the author himself, is the perfect blend of a character readers like me want to follow. We get to the point in the narrative that we cannot wait to hear his take on one situation or thought or another. At once, he is: a charismatic, driven public defender (the opening 50+ pages are dedicated to getting a sense of a day in his frenetic life, effortlessly moving from one client to another spinning webs of logic and rhetoric to circumvent even the most dire of charges, surmounting defeatism repeatedly); a successful individual who has, at twenty-four years of age, established a perfect defense record in the courtroom; an amateur philosopher, pulling out the ideas of Plato, Descartes, Kant, Hume, Locke, Leibniz, and Popper at will; an admirer of musicians of the ilk of Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen (he blasts Malmsteen's "Far Beyond the Sun" through his headphones in the courtroom!); a possessor of intelligently drôle humor that asserts a sort of control variable to the madness swirling around him (for a while, at least); and the perfect counterpoint to the enigmatic Dane, who will take us into explorations of perfection and mediocrity and failure ad nauseum.

Indeed, one of the book's greatest strengths is in it relentless and multifarious perspectives and ruminations of mediocrity. Dane, who is obsessed with achieving perfection, presents his latest in a spate of ploys to attain his goal: the perfect lawyerly representation. He plans to channel everything into this one case, whatever the cost to himself. But: "If it turned out I was no better than the average chump, if I was unable to achieve perfection even when every fiber in my being was pointed towards this simple goal, then I would accept it, this soul-robbing mediocrity, like a man" (237). Again, this aspiration is beautifully counterpoised with: "...chances were nobody could be as smart as I thought I was, and fools are often the last to know their status as such" (293). But the whole plight to transcend the dregs of mediocrity is so deftly drawn in this book that this theme alone makes it a universal text. How many people have I listened to who feel trapped and even like failures because of our culture's constant message that we can be and do whatever we want if we just work hard enough? It's simply not true and it is hindering more than it is helping, even if it does sound inspirational. Of course, money helps a bit, and the novel really takes off when Dane introduces this (complicating) factor into the plot.

To be continued.
Profile Image for Derrick Simerly.
35 reviews18 followers
August 5, 2020
On a Charlie Rose T.V. segment, alongside David Foster Wallace and Mark Leyner, Jonathan Franzen once talked about how he would never attempt to set a novel around "at a precinct house," because television does a such a ‘slick job’ in captivating the audience with these crime/lawyer shows. In Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, A Naked Singularity this writer/public defender “who does not live in Brooklyn” proves Franzen’s sentiment very wrong. A Naked Singularity engages the legal system in a way that cannot be done in T.V. These T.V. shows that Franzen cites are superficial representations, or, straight lies about the legal system in the U.S. A Naked Singularity is anything but superficial. It is fraught with depictions of every part of the legal process, legal jargon included. This book is better than all of those representations on T.V. (Good fiction is better than mediocre T.V., who would’ve thought) in every possible category of artistic metric AND pure entertainment value.

“I’m very proud of my humility and if I had to pick one quality of mine that has continually stood me in good stead and which has allowed me to achieve the status I have, I think I would point to that, my humility that is; either that or my intelligence” - A judge in A Naked Singularity, or quote from the POTUS’ twitter account??

This novel is Delillo and DFW-esque in gripping prose, hilarious dialogue, and bonkers digressions that range from a pugilist biography to a Honeymooners character transmogrified cameo. While these digressions get very absurd, the main plot centered around Casi, a public defender in NY, is a sharp critique of the War on Drugs and the legal system as a whole. We see Casi juggle multiple cases as a defender, while also planning and carrying out a “perfect crime” with his co-worker Dean. The “perfect crime” narrative, including the paranoiac aftermath of it, reads like an allegory of Crime and Punishment in a modern U.S. context with postmodern maximalist flare. The myriad of characters, conversation, and situations in the novel make for an enthralling reading experience.

This is a prescient book, a book that will grab a hold of every part of your brain making you laugh out loud and think deeply on a myriad of different topics. A long book, but not necessarily hard, it was very fun and I did not want it to end. I will probably re-read many times in the future.
Profile Image for Marc Kozak.
252 reviews64 followers
September 12, 2013
It is, by law, impermissible to review this book and not compare it to the works of David Foster Wallace. Just by hearing that, you can probably get an idea of what to expect:

• A book that has a physical size big enough to crush even the largest of spiders.

• Characters who speak in identical, impossible dialogue, all of them supremely educated, eloquent, long-winded, witty, and oh-so-clever

• Digressions that have digressions inside of digressions.

• Non-traditional, non-linear, occasionally nonsensical storytelling.

• Creative usage of curse words.

• Insightful and head-nodding philosophies about the existence of human beings.

• Five star Goodreads reviews.

This book does have all of that and then some. I can see how some would be bothered by the pages upon pages featuring large blocks of uninterrupted dialogue, or throw the book at (and possibly through) the wall screaming "NOVELS MUST HAVE THINGS LIKE PLOTS AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT" and they wouldn't be wrong, but they'd also be making the mistake of classifying this as a mere novel. This is more like a mixtape of everything. Philosophy, religion, physics, morality - it's true that none of these things are discussed in depth enough for this to be considered anything other than fiction, but at the same time, labeling as fiction does it a disservice. There should be a new section in bookstores called "LIFE" in all caps, featuring books like these.

And really, the actual plot and story elements are riveting in themselves, when they do appear. We mostly follow a defense attorney named Casi, who has never lost a case that goes to trial. The first half of the book is largely spent on the cases he works on, fascinating and at times revolting in depth of accurate legal detail. Lots of important topics are breached, including a takedown of the War on Drugs, societal views of criminals, legal v. illegal drug abuse, and the awfulness of the rushed assembly line process that is our legal system. One of Casi's clients is a mentally challenged death row inmate, and De La Pava commits a section of the book to the letters they write back and forth to each other, becoming increasingly desperate and heartbreaking. But the warden reminds Casi that this is still a murderer, showing him the grisly photos of what was done and the families it affected. It's an interesting approach - we are made to feel compassion for these criminals, because they are still humans who simply make mistakes, often caught in the gravity of space beyond their control, but at the same time confronted with what they can do when left unchecked, exhibiting dangerous and violent behavior. It's a shame no alternate solutions are proposed, because you can't help but expect there to be some better way of doing all this, but the inevitability of it all continues on, with no end in sight.

A recurring digression concerns the history of the great boxing legend Wilfred Benítez, as he follows a career track that seems to mirror Casi's. A naturally gifted fighter who hardly tried but always won, eventually squanders his talents and fortune, and is left a vegetable, almost completely alone. It speaks to another recurring theme of legacy - how most of us refuse to believe others are better than us, even when faced with insurmountable evidence to the contrary. And even those of us who do manage to carve out some kind of legacy are still forgotten, left with nothing, the cost of getting to the top in the first place. Obscurity is presented as Casi's greatest fear, and one that is immensely relatable for most of us.

The later half of the book reads like a great heist movie, complete with intricately detailed plans, sword fights (!!!!!), and the circling threat of retribution. The last 200 pages in particular are almost impossible not to read in one sitting. And for those of you who are afraid to start a book this big without the promise of emotional payoffs, trust me, this delivers.

On top of all of this, there is even some ambiguity as to whether or not any of these narrative threads are even happening. There are some references to Casi's age and experience that could be read as suggesting some of these events are in completely different time periods. There are surreal occurrences that could be interpreted as never happening at all, or in a different kind of reality entirely. There's a brief section about Casi standing above all of time, viewing it all at once, everything happening at the same instant, that I'm sure could produce a few differing theories about the order of events (if the term "order" even means anything at all).

There's so much to appreciate here, and I find it hard to believe that anyone who makes it to the end wouldn't be able to find something worthwhile, or at the very least, thought provoking and worthy of discussion. I know I'll be re-reading this more than a few times, and I'm sure, like most great works, I'll get something different out of it each time. Highest recommendation, people. Go get it.
Profile Image for Steve.
165 reviews27 followers
November 4, 2017
10JAN10. Well! January isn't even half over and I think I've already found my favorite book of 2010. I'm precisely 1/6 the way through A Naked Singularity and it has shoved all my other reading to the back burner. I'm having as much fun reading this as I had reading Infinte Jest , and/or The Gold Bug Variations , and/or The Lost Scrapbook *. An assload of fun, in other words. (*De La Pava's novel reminds me of Evan Dara's The Lost Scrapbook in another way. It's self-published and out-of-nowhere and surprisingly, astronomically good despite. I can't believe it's De La Pava's first novel, and it kills me how hard he will have to work to get a wider audience for it, if he's even able to do that at all.)

27JAN10. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK. At its heart is the story of Casi, a disenchanted but successful young NYC public defender who is being courted into thievery by a devious (if not downright demonic) coworker named Dane. Dane learned about a multi-million dollar drug deal involving one of Casi's clients, and Dane thinks it's time he and Casi stopped being spectators in life's rich pageant and started "being the change they wish to see." A Naked Singularity is almost 700 pages but it reads much quicker since it holds the reader's interest in a variety of ways; It's very funny (from the silly name mispronunciations in an otherwise serious trial, to an elaborate biblical allegory at a ritzy theme hotel, to the interactions of Casi's extended family...something I'll wager the author shares with his protagonist, judging by the number of De La Pavas thanked in the acknowledgments), action-packed (the heist scenes were light-speed page-turners), educational (NY legal system...dominant boxers of the 1980s... a Colombian recipe that sounds delicious...with obscure cultural name-drops ranging from "Three's Company," to Nietzsche, to the tragedies of Luis Colosio and Andres Escobar, to that horrfying viral video of the lady darting in front of the speeding locomotive, etc.), erudite (my code for "it has many words I had to look up"), mercilessly heart-rending (the forlorn series of letters between Jalen Kingg, a pathetic, mentally retarded death-row prisoner and Casi, Kingg's latest attorney), completely detail-obsessed at some points (Casi's caseload is laid out over dozens of pages early in the book, to say nothing of how much we learn about boxer Wilfred Benitez) and ridiculously absurd at others (the Clerical Confessions HBO show, or the Monty Python-ish contempt and "C.O.C.K." hearings near the end of the novel), with a tantalizing bit of in medias res to keep pomo-geeks like me happy (while also taking meta-ironic aim at cleverness-for-its-own-sake...p496), and is topped off with a wicked little plot twist toward the end that I SO did not see coming and that I re-read three times.

For a couple weeks A Naked Singularity was a huge part of my life; I looked forward to waking up to it, I thought about it while I was at work, and I couldn't wait to come home to it at the end of the day. How does one recommend a book more strongly than that?

By creating a web page for it, is how.
March 2011. What better way to get ready for Personae than by granting A Naked Singularity the reread it's been screaming for since the first read?

28APR11.It's been quite awhile since I liked a book enough to read it twice. The second trip through this carnival did not disappoint, but I have to say, trying to focus on the chronology (i.e. trying to determine when Casi was young and when he was older) was at first a herculean--then seemingly futile--effort, and I'm starting to think the Singularity/Non-linear time angle is too thick to navigate. I paid particular attention time clues and cues and will add quite a lot--I imagine--to my discussion of the chronology on my ANS page. (Someday, but probably not until this summer since in my line of work (HS science teacher) May is the nuttiest month of the year.)

15AUG13. 2013 PEN/Bingham Prize awarded to Sergio De La Pava for A Naked Singularity! The story of this novel's (and author's) journey just keeps getting better and better!
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,835 reviews1,343 followers
July 9, 2012
It was actually quite nice here yesterday. The trouble to enjoying such was that it was the Third. Today is the Fourth and we are off on holiday. It is also infernal outdoors. Despite such I went out this a.m. and walked for hour while listening to Morrissey and Shine On You Crazy Diamond. I returned all a-soak and lobsterized by the maltreatment. It was decided then and there as I rehydrated that I would finish A Naked Singularity. The final 200 pages were clipped and episodic, losing the torque achieved in the previous 550. It does work and compel as a novel, an interrogation of our cozy humanity and our sense of fairness.

My director at work has a son employed as a public defender. I told her about the novel and she in turn bought it for her son. I am hopeful for the best, there. I was gripped by the far-flung elements and have found little energy for weighing them in tandem. There are arcs of function and decay throughout the myriad situations. At least today, I find it redundant to reconcile such.

Symbolism is often ephemeral. It is fitting that A Naked Singularity is listed as my 1000th book completed, though in typing such, i think it would be better illustrated as the next.
Profile Image for Sentimental Surrealist.
293 reviews48 followers
October 15, 2019
One thing that strikes me about de la Pava is he's a hell of a storyteller. He take a compelling protagonist, here the harried Casi, a public defender who has never missed a case and blends his strong sense of justice with a finely honed sense of sarcasm. He hands him the ideal foil in Dean, a cynical opportunist with a cool head obsessed with achieving perfection. And he watches what happens. In this case, you get meditations on TV, a terrific subplot about real-life boxer Wilfred Benitez, a guy dressed as Uncle Sam and his pet chimpanzee, some family struggles, and, of course, the Whale. No, no, not that whale. You've got your big long books mixed up and now I'm gonna get mine mixed up too.

It's hard to miss how sharp this guy is, because it's hard as hell to put this book down. When he's in control, you can't top him. I love all the courtroom segments, which unfold with a gripping back-and-forth and a nice sense of sarcasm. The first of them, also the first chapter, is the ideal way to start your book. De la Pava gives himself five clients to play with and uses them to effectively establish a whole lot about our protagonist, while also revealing his own talent for distinctive voices and his sense of humor. The Benitez tale is terrific, of course, both as a different filter to understand Casi's case and because de la Pava is so damn good at bringing out the small moments that make a scene seem real. The heist promised on the jacket flap is also pretty astounding, and the surrealism that starts beforehand and takes way off afterward kicks all means and manner of ass.

So why am I holding out on that fifth star? Well, for as good of a writer as de la Pava is, I'm not sure how much of his own identity as a writer we get here. It's always hard to tell where a writer becomes their bookshelf, but it's super-hard to tell with de la Pava. If 2666 is the contemporary mega-tome that showed a whole host of possibilities after Infinite Jest, A Naked Singularity is very much in its wake. There aren't any footnotes, and the subject matter here is quite different, but their prose style is so similar it's a little unsettling. The ten-million-thoughts-at-a-time prose style, the switches between high and low diction, the long sentences, it's all here and it's kinda weird how it's all here.

I guess it also in places feels like a pastiche of postmodernism in general. You've got DeLillo's strange circular dialogues, you've got Gaddis' habit of rendering huge stretches in nothing but dialogue, you've got Pynchon's tendency to erupt his narrative into chaos. And look, pastiching postmodernism is a little too cute even for me. Plus some of those dialogues do get a little rambly, although they're more active than The Magic Mountain's philosophical entreaties. They are consistently fun, but this is where I begin to wonder, as I said before, how much control of the ship de la Pava has. Plus it's like come on, you don't need to blast these themes out there like that.

Still, quite the worthy read on a whole. If you're into the whole postmodern thing, you might find this an interesting take on it, a little more character-driven maybe than the works of Pynchon. IT's nicely savvy and media-aware. It's possible de la Pava has a five-star book in him, and there are five-star portions of this book, but on a whole? I don't think this quite gets there.
Profile Image for Ian Gillibrand.
38 reviews8 followers
December 27, 2022

This book absolutely blew me away to the extent I got up at 5am this morning to finish the last 75 or so pages before breakfast.

As someone who quite recently retired after 28 years in the UK criminal justice system de la Pava absolutely nails the absurdities, atrocities and black humour that infests the court system and the cynicism within the US version which shares many of the same characteristics.

The central character, a single overworked charismatic young Defence Attorney in New York is supported by a cast of obsessives, tyrants, oddball and tragic defendants and big supportive family living elsewhere in New York.

He has an incredible ear for dialogue which he displays in rapid fire, machine gun-like verbal exchanges throughout the book which is often very funny.

The book also covers a desperate attempt to have a death penalty sentence lifted on a mentally impaired prisoner in Alabama, an audacious and bloody scheme to rip off a drug cartel and a deep dive into the world of 1970s to 1990s professional boxing.

Post modern in form it remains hugely accessible, multi-layered and without doubt my book of the year.
Profile Image for Jim Elkins.
333 reviews337 followers
May 4, 2018
Problems with Combining DFW's Prose with Detective-Story Plots

I'm writing these opening paragraphs in May 2018; I wrote the review that follows in fall 2011. At that time de la Pava's only book was "Naked Singularity," and it was not well known. It's famous now for having been self-published after 88 agents rejected the proposal; after it was published by University of Chicago Press (thanks, I think, in large measure to Kristy McGuire), it got more attention; in 2015 or so I found a copy, published by an English press, in a bookstore in a small town in Ireland, in with a small fiction selection that also included Melville, Austen, and others. Most North American readers probably discovered de la Pava in a review of his third novel, "Lost Empress," in "The New Yorker," May 7, 2018. More on that at the end of this review.


"Naked singularity" is a dense, 689-page self-published novel with no endorsements and, as far as I can see, only three reviews on the internet.

A tremendously perplexing novel. The first four hundred pages are more or less out to match "Infinite Jest." They are written at a pitch of cleverness and complexity, with asides, chapter-long irrelevant distractions (sometimes insouciantly declared, by the author, as irrelevant), philosophical interruptions, and compulsively micromanaged descriptions, all in the service, apparently, of a vast and continuously enlarging cast of characters and situations that can just barely be remembered by the ideal assiduous reader. This is done with the help of sharply written courtroom slang, strongly reminiscent of, and probably competitive with, "The Wire" or Richard Price specifically.

A reader who stops after four hundred pages might do so because she is exhausted by the prospect of another David Foster Wallace, even if that prospect is spiced by bleeding-edge contemporary urban conversation, larded with solecisms, misspellings, travesties against grammar, and "em" and "ums" and "..."s. (That is: ellipses marking where the interlocutor doesn't speak: an invention, I think, of DWF's.)

In next hundred pages things tighten up, and a reader will realize that there is a single plot after all, and that the novel is in fact driven by this plot in a way that DFW would have experienced as dangerously non-fractal. At that point--somewhere in those roughly one hundred pages--my interest peaked, because then I thought de La Pava was trying to pull off a new hybrid form of fiction, mingling the overspilling and intentionally excessive maximalist plays with language with the plot-driven intricacies of, say, "Law and Order." But I became perplexed when I saw that despite De La Pava's characters' unremitting, hypertrophied self-awareness, which involves mandatory long chapters discussing fate, causality, and freedom, with examples drawn from Wittgenstein, Hume, and other staples of the undergraduate college curriculum, he (the author) was entirely unaware that a large part of the appeal of his book would, in fact, be the suspense generated not by the turn to a "policier" plot, but by the possibility that he might pull off this new fusion of genres. He seems to have written the book in the grip of the commonplace feverish admiration and ambition generated by DFW and publications like McSweeny's, and he seems to have thought he could profitably and unproblematically use those fictional techniques to write a truly great crime story. But that, to me, is a misunderstanding of the stakes of the entire DFW project, and the author's obliviousness to those stakes made me rethink the reasons for his attachment to perfectly pitched, hyper-eloquent minimalist dialogue and madly overstuffed maximalist description.

The last two hundred pages plunge into crime and courtroom drama. There are three concurrent plots: the narrator, a public defender, is under investigation; he has participated in a robbery; and he is trying to get a stay of execution for a death row inmate. Each of these is treated with a maximum of drama. When the narrator talks to his death row client, the prose is suddenly, frighteningly maudlin, Oprah style, including a tearful scene in the jail. ("Your eyes are funny now," the simple-minded inmate says to the narrator, implying that the narrator, and potentially also his readers, have been crying listening to the inmate's pathetic story; p. 491.) Then, when the narrator robs some drug dealers, the scene is edge-of-your seat exciting for a good thirty pages (starting abruptly on p. 516). That kind of writing has absolutely nothing in common with the prose experiments of the preceding four hundred pages, and the fact that the author does not notice the nature of that mismatch--he certainly understands that there is a mismatch, but not what it means in terms of the self-understanding of genres and writing projects--made me intensely disappointed.

So: given that the novel is a hybrid, in the pejorative sense of that word, meaning that it is an attempt at mixture where mixing remains the principal issue, what can be said about the writing itself? When the narrator and his legal colleagues talk, their speech is relentless in its cleverness, and when the perps talk, their speech is consistently surprisingly realistic and entertaining. Blending those two modes is a real accomplishment. But when the educated characters and think or speak, then it's DFW territory, and that part is problematic. There is a line to be drawn between writing that is tortured in order to be expressive, and writing that is tortured because the author is a compulsive torturer of language. Here are some lines I experience as compulsive, non-expressive cleverness. They might redouble my admiration for the author, but they don't mix in interesting or expressive ways with the scenes, the characters, or the story.

1. From the recounting of a corner store robbery caught on videotape. Two men, Rane and Cruz, have been stalking the store.

"Now Rane signals Cruz with his chin and they rhyme toward the counter, and the near-future decedent." (p. 77)

"Rhyming" to the counter is clever and visually effective, but "the near-future decedent" is a needless complication of "the man they were about to kill," intended, presumably, to keep us in mind of the legalistic context, and to foreshadow the mangled language that will be used at the trial. But here it's too much (spending so much time with the book makes me wonder if the author would prefer "supernumerary"). It's distracting because it points for the hundredth or thousandth time back to the author's wit.

2. "I recently began my thirtieth ellipse around our sun, an anniversary that as you can imagine barks louder than the usual ones." (p. 95)

Again, "my thirtieth ellipse" is clever, and expresses the speaker's resistance to acknowledging his age too directly; but "barks" distracts by bringing me back to the author and his wit.

Overall, too much of the writing is of this sort. Sentence sparkle is not the unproblematic virtue the author hopes it appears to be: it's a symptom, a sign of anxiety about straightforwardness, a sort of fear of the plain style, a tic, a compulsive complication with a life and logic of its own. In "A Naked Singularity" wit is intense: not so much intensely expressive as intensely compulsive. The issue is whether that compulsion is experienced as such by the author, thematized, explained by context and purpose, pondered, used for expressive purpose--or simply expressed the way a patient expresses a sign of illness. Wit, as DFW realized very deeply, sincerely, and ineffectually, is a problem as well as an accomplishment.


That's the review I wrote in 2011. The main point wasn't that de la Pava didn't take on board DFW's anxiety about the overwrought qualities of his own prose--a concern that became clear with "The Pale King"--it was that the detective-story plot didn't mix with the maximalist prose. And that was mainly because it was not thematized in the novel itself: nothing in "A Naked Singularity" explains or explores why the intricate legal plot needs its verbal fizz, or whether that style has a function beyond its compulsive drive to razor-wire sharpness.

Now, nearly eight years later, it seems that the readers who like de la Pava enjoy him precisely because he mixes maximalist prose with real-world plots. Here is Jonathan Dee, in "The New Yorker," praising de la Pava's third book, "Lost Empress":

"There are, to be sure, trace elements in 'Lost Empress' of David Foster Wallace and William Gaddis and other postmodern giants. What's unusual--electrifyingly so--is to see this kind of polyphonic, self-conscious literary performance and all-stops-pulled-out postmodernist production value brought to bear on upperclass lives, and on questions of social justice...." (p. 71).

It's "electrifying" for a hundred pages, but the shock wears off, because it's meaningless.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,269 followers
December 8, 2009
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Uh-oh, I thought when first receiving the 700-page, print-on-demand A Naked Singularity from Sergio De La Pava -- another self-published stream-of-consciousness epic for me to slog my way through. And the reason I had that reaction of course was because of a growing realization I've been making since opening CCLaP two and a half years ago, a surprising realization given how much of a self-publishing advocate I've been over the decades -- that for the most part, the publishing industry is pretty much a self-regulating system, and that the vast majority of self-published epics out there exist in that form because they sincerely aren't good enough to warrant a publishing contract from an outside organization. I mean, obviously there are many exceptions to this rule; but after now reviewing hundreds of self-published titles for this site, I've been surprised by how rarely it's the oft-argued case that they are unknown little sleeper hits that have simply slipped most people's attention, that in fact eight times out of ten it seems that either word-of-mouth or a grassroots fan base or a forward-thinking industry executive will get a legitimately deserving book the kind of attention it warrants, at least to the extent of convincing a stranger to spend their own time and money publishing it.

So it's always such a welcome surprise, then, to come across an example of that other 20 percent, the one out of five self-published novels that really does deserve more attention; because A Naked Singularity is indeed one of them, a book that for sure has its problems but that really is going to be intensely loved by a certain crowd out there. And that's because De La Pava is a writer's writer, a lover of big words and complex phrases put together in clever ways; and so like fellow complex writer's writers such as Thomas Pynchon or Denis Johnson, there is a limited audience only for De La Pava's work but an extra passionate one, the kind of author destined to always linger at the bottom of the bestseller lists even while racking up major awards year after year. And in fact, just like so much of Johnson's work as well, A Naked Singularity is at its heart a simple crime noir, the kind of intelligent caper story that simply breeds such basic narrative needs as conflict and drama, in order to make it an intriguing tale to begin with.

It's essentially the story of a young Latino public defender in New York who we only know as Casi, an idealistic workaholic who lives in a trendy section of Brooklyn, and who always seems to surround himself with fascinating characters who all tell great, convoluted stories, from the grumpy older attorneys in his office to the pop-culture-obsessed slackers squatting in the apartment next to his, to his "Ugly Betty" style cutesy-eccentric extended family. As we watch Casi go through the motions of a typical work week, then (including a look at a dozen lowlifes he's randomly assigned to in open court, a pro-bono anti-death-penalty case in Alabama he's taken on, a snippy judge who he gets into an ongoing fight with, his neighbor's attempt to psychically raise a corporeal form of The Honeymooners' Ralph Kramden through repeated drug-addled TV watchings of the show, and a lot more), Casi starts slowly learning from a co-worker the details of a plum situation that has randomly landed in their lap, info from a loose-lipped client on a major drug buy at a secret and hence unsecured location, in which nearly $20 million in cash will be on hand with barely any security. As Casi and his cooly sociopathic co-worker have more and more stoner-like hypothetical conversations concerning how exactly one would go about successfully ripping off said twenty million, the plan starts becoming more and more real in their heads; and about two-thirds of the way through they decide to actually try to pull it off, which in typical noir style goes disastrously wrong, the repercussions of which make up the surprise-filled last third of the manuscript.

But it's a mistake to judge A Naked Singularity only in terms of its noirish plot, no matter how inventive it sometimes is; because like so many other writers of this type, De La Pava uses this familiar framework as a way to hold together dozens of lengthy dialogues and digressions found throughout, to really explore both language and the pacing of speech in a way that will be much appreciated by his fellow fans of patient, well-crafted literature. And in this you can compare De La Pava not only to Pynchon and Johnson but to such other polarizing figures as David Mamet and Richard Price, in that all these authors tend to treasure and even fetishize the patterns and rhythms of the underclass, the accidental poetry that inherently comes with the slang-filled street talk of barely literate criminals and immigrant families. And much like Price, De La Pava gets away with this precisely by basing the plot itself on the exciting conventions of a crime noir, letting the story zip along on its own so that he can deliberately take long pauses within, in order to explore these dense and well-turned digressions that occur between the action-based set pieces.

Now, like I said, there are definitely problems with A Naked Singularity as well, starting with what you'd expect to be the biggest problem of a self-published stream-of-consciousness epic -- that it's in desperate need of an outside editor, someone who can go in and judiciously hack away at the sometimes novella-length side stories and get to a nice tight 400 pages by the end, basically the one thing right now stopping this book from having a chance of being a Price-style mainstream breakthrough hit of its own. But like I said, mostly I was surprisingly pleased by what I found here, given that overwritten self-published stream-of-consciousness epics more often than not make me want to claw out my own freaking eyes; and unlike 95 percent of basement-press books I review here, A Naked Singularity actually gets better and better as it continues, instead of starting strong and tapering off like so many others. It's not for everyone, but will definitely be a pleasing read for anyone into well-done crime projects, as well as those who like it when genre conceits are used to display an academic kind of superior writing style. The very definition of a hidden gem, it is just the thing for those who enjoy taking chances in the arts every so often.

Out of 10: 9.0
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,286 reviews730 followers
October 28, 2020

Several years back, recently dropped out of college and equipped with little more than a parent-granted roof over my head and a brain that had been telling me to kill myself for nearly a decade, I finished a book called 'Infinite Jest.' At the time, I had reached a level of comfort with this website to pen my thoughts on the work, and, in response, droves of members of that cult of the Sad/Intelligent/Misunderstood/Difficult White Boy paid adulation to my writing, making me think that I had done something of real merit rather than offer fodder to many a neurotypical voyeur. Such was likely the beginning of my belief that my road to salvation lay in one or more weighty tomes held aloft by prettily phrased references and other intimated motifs that signaled that one was part of the 'in the know,' that sediment layer of readership that, if it has ever had to work two to three part time jobs back to back with nothing in the way of health insurance, job security, or green card at any point in its life, has quickly wiped out what it meant to live in such a way that made reading the sorts of tomes that I, for all my middle class mental torturings, was able to imbibe, a temporal, mental, and even physical impossibility. I'm not going to compare de la Pava to any of those tomes (or at least the ones that are classified as such by the mainstream), partly because I genuinely think the resemblance isn't there, partly because I distrust, out of consideration of how long ago these readings were and in how poor an independent mental place I was then, what I consider to be my genuine thoughts about that entire self-satisfied lot. Instead, I'll talk about books, and hearts, and the 21st century, and how this work is clumsy in places and absolutely unoriginal in others, but mostly how I'm not surprised that the type that usually goes for works like these didn't do so.

I already mentioned the socioeconomic factors that 'naturally' weed out the sort of folks who are able to sit down and churn out nearly 700+ pages with anywhere between 300-480 words a piece on each to be read by the sort of folks who have enough stability (mental, physical, monetary) and enough incentive (as hobby, as status, as some sort of masochistic achievement worthy of the most mewling and puking members of academia and the ilk spawned from it) to read it in return. All that, though, is college talk, so let's go back to high school, the place that introduced me to many of the works that La Pava's work, after much thought, reminded me of. The most obvious, of course, is the plot thread of the incarcerated, mentally challenged individual, which hearkens back to the sort of sanctimonious tripe that is 'Of Mice and Men' and 'Flower's for Algernon,' the assignment of which as mandatory reading in the United States gives one a pretty good place to start when looking into the country's history of eugenics and love affair with Nazism (least until the white people started coming a little too close to other white people's property). This is where the clumsiness in de la Pava's approach comes in, but the redeeming factor is the Aktion T4-flavored water cooler talk happening in one of the most esteemed institutions in one of the most esteemed locations in one of the most esteemed countries that, supposedly, has been the ultimate determiner of Good and Evil since WWII, or the 1860s, or the 1770s, depending on one's flavor of historical fanfiction. Couple that with the instance when the main character's 'sense of self begin[s] to crack' (for once, the blurb on the book is so accurate it hurts) wherein he actively feeds into dehumanizing bigotry that he is supposedly trying to combat on a statewide legal basis, largely because you don't get into the hallowed halls of law and order without imbibing some of that holier than thou 'survival of the fittest' and the tighter the screw of unpaid loans/dank living conditions/state violence (did I mention the fact that the main character looks a lot more like his clients than his coworkers)/less than optimal health support in all manner of instances, and you have the 21st century I was talking about, written in the most accurate way I've read to date.

The thing about the whole disability porn tragedy is it's not going to work for everyone, and I don't expect it to. It did, however, work especially well for me because, if it hasn't come across already, reading this book is exhausting, but in the fuck, I've lived that way, which, myself having been privy to a class hosted by a certain engineering ethics professor, teaching students in extremely well esteemed academic fields at a pretty well esteemed university, who essentially told us that the solution to job security is to attach oneself to the kind of corporation that can fail in arguing that committing human rights violations is the correct way to go because to save money, I can say that I've lived instances that raised the veil on the popular idea of humanity's trust in itself and showed it to be the sycophantic, conniving, and well funded message that it is. What de la Pava presents here is a story of how the young newcomers, the ones without the family name, the ones without the trust fund, the ones without the habitus gifted to every WASP in the land of the free and the home of the brave, are whittled down from whatever beliefs they had in changing the system into either one that does its part, or one that goes home. For me, reading this was like going back to those college days where I was the one who had made it, and all that was left for me to do was to tell myself that it had all been worth it and it was so much better from where I had come from and now the only thing was to power through the lack of support system, brain chemical imbalances, and fear until the money I made justified it all forever and ever. I finished 'Infinite Jest' because I had a roof over my head to return to. I imagine there's at least one other person who would have found as much worth in the work as I did, but was forced by circumstance to commit to the other option I had alongside that of dropping out and going home, which was that of jumping off a bridge instead.

I got off track a bit from my previous talk of mid 20th c. think pieces sprawling their way thematically through this work cause writing's not the most conducive when one has to consider things like paragraphs and effective transitions (part of why I sympathized rather than despaired when faced with some of de la Pava's solid blocks of at least 480 words in a single space), but let's go back to that high school reading time, specifically Vonnegut. So, Vonnegut wrote some sci fi stuff, but if you bundled him with Clark or something, people would probably get mad, right? Well, granted, it's been along time since my last experience with that author, but de la Pava's conclusion reminded me of 'Cat's Cradle,' which, likely due to a group project that for some reason required the compilation of a music playlist for the book, I remember more clearly than I do other high school reads. Maybe it's because the 90 deg F temperatures blaring out 'climate change' in October in combination with quarantine making its merry way towards its eighth month of existence is driving my end of days mentality even further out than usual, but the ending of this work, putting its formerly briefly intimated at sci fi themes into full throttle in as schlocky and noncommittal as it can be well be complained about, made perfect sense to me. Now, this might be entirely incorrect, but I seem to remember Vonnegut achieving the same thing: the difference is that, of course, he had WWII and atomic bombs and such to lend a sort of authorial credibility, or perhaps emotional credibility, to a tale that, technically, should be shoved alongside the lasers and the scantily clad women and not have much expected of it ever again. That is what I felt with de la Pava's conclusion, which valued the closure of pathos over any sort of plot fulfillment that, once it had gotten its point across, simply did away with the whole landscape that would otherwise drive the work's intrepid hero into another corkscrew of crime and punishment (more like punishment and crime if I'm being honest here) when the main message of all that had already been gotten across. Frustrating for some, I can imagine, but as someone who is irascibly immune to shows of sentiment, the one in this work's last ten pages was not only the best I could have gotten from a work like this, but was also good enough for me to put more in a review than I have in a while to attempt to explain why it worked so well. Hell on whoever reads this, but cathartic for me at least.

I don't think I've said all that I could say about this work, but I at least established a partial explanation for the reception of this work, as well as perhaps one for the part of my reading behavior caught up with a love/hate affair with "difficult" works such as this, that is as satisfactory in my view as it can be with my being paid for composing it. If you want a work to compare this to, I'd pick Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: sizably imposing, deeply insightful, absurd while borderline all too understandable, comical while grappling with the all too serious, arguably canonical but only through doing everything it can to take advantage of its outsider status. The comparisons aren't comprehensive, as I don't have much inclination to read de la Pava's entire bibliography or see him as a strong contender for the Nobel Prize for Lit during a year when the committee is less obsessed with sucking its own whatever, but, once again, every so often, I read something birthed by the 21st c. and think that there's something to look forward to when it comes to literature in the years to come after all. It won't be in the form of most works that concern themselves namedropped logos or smartphone horror stories or quarantiction (someone's already come up with a term for that, right?), but it will do its best to seriously grapple with the chaotically deadening, surveillance state, prison-industrial-complex hellscape that is the modern day without the need to cover up the heart on its sleeve. It won't reference Lynch, or act all apolitically "cool," or get applause for trundling out the Holocaust to make up for the fact that it's little more than some stapled together pages printed out from the Europe-obsessed sections of Wikipedia. Instead, it will give me the sense that the author has lived what I lived and recognizes the need to unearth the profundities that are continually paved over with glib reassurances, bad faith fearmongering, and the other tools of those who continually choose money over other's lives, all without the aid of the theme of a world war to make audiences sympathetic to such concerns. It'll be difficult without being hollow, and that, judging by the state of "difficult" literature written these days, is both the hardest, and thus the most important, thing to achieve of all.
I thought how despite what Benitez and others look like today, people still slip in between ropes and into boxing rings.
P.S. I'm not saying that this is another 'Infinite Jest,' but it does remind me of why I got into reading these stupidly complex works in the first place, enough to give me a sense of hope, if you will; if that's not enough, you're reading the wrong reviewer.
Profile Image for Leif Quinlan.
221 reviews21 followers
March 6, 2020
Just fun as hell. Not much else needs be said - though I could spend 25 pages reviewing all there is going on - sometimes it's better with certain books to just tell people, "yeah, it's badass - read it"

Yeah, it's badass
Read it
Profile Image for Paul H. .
801 reviews265 followers
November 17, 2020
What a strange and occasionally frustrating book. I was very close to giving up, on multiple occasions, but then he would pull through just in time. Singularity is good, it's worth reading, and it's relatively unique. Certainly it's better than like 90% of published novels. But it doesn't really 'work' as a novel, and I'm actually mildly annoyed that it took up two weeks of my life (only ~50 years left to read all good books ever written, so time is at a premium).

Really we have 5-6 novellas that are almost unrelated (#1 the public defender courtroom scenes, #2 the insane heist with Dane, #3 the Benitez narrative, #4 the terrible philosopher-roommates thing, #5 death row in Florida, #6 Casi's family) and are badly-halfway-tied together through a somewhat grating but often brilliant narrative voice. Half the novellas are really good (#1, #2, #3, and #6 isn't bad?) but #4, among the most lengthy ones, is definitely not. Like the Greenwich Village party scenes in The Recognitions, this should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

One of the big issues is that virtually zero percent of the dialogue is believable, at all, apart from the court transcript stuff; it's fun to read, in a way, but it was almost impressive how every character sounded the same and also lacked all plausibility. Pynchon characters breaking into song while explaining quantum mechanics or whatever are more believable than the dialogue in this book. I guess it's maybe similar to Gaddis, where the characters are just = Gaddis talking? But that's the least appealing aspect of Gaddis. I was mostly reminded of the maximalist Infinite Jest narrative style, but in dialogue.

Oh did I mention Infinite Jest? Because holy shit does this guy blatantly copy IJ. And no, I'm not saying that every 650+ page novel with any degree of postmodern/formal trickery is "copying IJ," what I mean is that I think this novel, in all seriousness, began its life as IJ fan-fiction that just got out of hand. If you're going to copy a book, I mean, why not? It's a good book! I'm not even sure if anything better came out that decade (possibly McCarthy's border trilogy?).

But even then . . . de la Pava uses the exact same metaphors in the same sports-related context as DFW ("he was the kind of guy a prime fighter like Benitez ate for lunch"). He brings up exactly the same rat + pellets + experiment addiction thing that forms the thematic centerpiece of IJ (de la Pava uses such similar language in this case that I have to wonder if he was being meta? on page 339 especially). He capitalizes 'Television' and overemphasizes its importance in this really weird and dated way, somehow, even though the book was published in 2008, lol; hadn't most people cancelled cable by then? He uses the same cringe acronyms (S.E.R.P.E.N.T, C.O.C.K., etc.), which, yes, DFW stole from Pynchon but come on.

So yeah, mostly reminded of DFW, and not always in a bad way, and then also echoes of Tom Wolfe, Gaddis, Pynchon, Bolaño, The Wire ("Season 6: Bunk and McNulty explore the world of public defenders!"), etc.

Also it's clearly a 'postmodern' novel, but thankfully de la Pava mostly avoids the self-conscious 'I'm writing experimental fiction, look at me!' touches, the most annoying aspect of postmodern lit (see Coover, Barth, pre-1995 DFW, Moore, Gass, most Oulipo, etc.), the winking/nudging 'metafiction haha amirite' thing.

Singularity is not twee, it's not MFA-ish, it's not pretentious (somehow! it really, really should be!). It includes court documents, letters, transcripts, etc. -- the usual 'we're not just writing fiction anymore!' stuff -- but, impossibly, it isn't glib, and it somehow succeeds.

Exhibit A: at one point early on, Casi is talking about eating his mother's empanadas, and how they're amazing etc., and then says, look, if you don't believe me here's the recipe! At which point de la Pava spends three pages writing out an extraordinarily detailed recipe for empanadas. But it's actually not pretentious or annoying! It doesn't feel like he's playing some annoying meta-literary game.

And the key, I realized later on, is the (thinly-veiled autobiographical) character in question, Casi himself; I've known guys precisely like this, I actually used to BE someone like this, an overly talkative grad student type who would tell you a story about his 24th birthday party at his mom's house and then would literally stop the anecdote to give you the recipe for the empanadas because he's an intense/funny/talkative person who would actually do that.

And the empanada recipe exemplifies the main thing Singularity has going for it -- the humor, the lightness, the fun; similar to IJ, this is really the only way to make such a novel work (IJ is, at the very least, the funniest novel of the past few decades). But in general I think it's important to note that the maximalist style (if not the novel itself) 'working' in this case is due to the fact that de la Pava really thought about WHY the novel was written in a maximalist style. I feel like some authors use such a style without really understanding why they're using it; is there a thematic or story-based or reality-based reason that you're writing in this style? In the case of Singularity, there definitely is.

Anyway, mostly recommended (ymmv).
Profile Image for Sir Jack.
77 reviews30 followers
June 5, 2012
This novel is about 70% dialogue, far too much dialogue for a work of fiction, I think. Nabokov somewhere sometime said that when picking up a new work of fiction, he’d leaf through it to see how much dialogue was there. If there was too much, he’d toss the book aside.

The problem is not just the overabundance of dialogue. There are two prominent strains of dialogue in the novel. (1) The Needlessly Clever Dialogue. These will include an unfortunate level of wisecracking irony and mannered one-liners coming from characters that are clearly on display, so to speak: they are talking solely to entertain and amuse the reader. (2) Documentary-like Chatter. These will be unnecessarily lengthy dialogues in which a district DA or life-long drug dealer or boxer or wacky friend will go on for pages about how the system works or the intricacies of the system and his role in it.

Related to (1) (and to give you a sense of the type of humor that pervades the book): There is one character who is going to do nothing but watch every episode of “The Honeymooners” on a loop for several days straight (while his always-up-for-amusing-irony roommates cheer him on) in the belief that after this slog he’ll begin to experience the characters of the “The Honeymooners” as actual real people and not just TV characters. The description of this simple idea takes up an incredible amount of dialogue.

The strongest parts of the book are probably the stuff related to (2), the documentary-like reproductions of how things work in courts and stuff. This stuff reads like good television or a decent movie. But not quite good literature.

And the satire is at times pretty heavy-handed. Here is a Self-Righteous Judge talking to the narrator:

“Now if you ask around here you’ll hear I’m a fair judge. One of the best really. And I say that despite being humble. I’m famous for that as well. I’m very proud of my humility and if I had to pick one quality of mine that has continually stood me in good stead and which has allowed me to achieve the status I have, I think I would point to that, my humility that is; either that or my intelligence.”

“The Simpsons” or “Futurama” is subtler than this.

Television is always capped and spelled out, and TV shows are always called Entertainments, and the latest in TV technology is cheerfully (with requisite irony) glorified. Yes, at times it feels like you are once again reading a pale-imitation DFW or Zadie Smith novel from the late 90s.

Here’s a snippet of a group of characters talking about what’s cooler, the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot:

“What the hell’s a Sasquatch suit?”
“Like a leisure suit.”
“No, more like a zoot suit.”
“Or a monkey suit.”
“Or your birthday suit.”
“Or a chicken-skin suit.”

This is on page 50. I ended up soldiering through to page 300.
Profile Image for Cathi Davis.
220 reviews11 followers
June 24, 2014
Imagine Douglas Adams wrote a Law & Order episode from the perspective of a public defender named Casi. Laugh, cry & be amazed. Close the book and start discussing "Who is Dane?" Devil? Super-ego? No one?
A bewitchingly different book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 380 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.