Nancy McKibben's Reviews > A Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava
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it was amazing
bookshelves: reviewed, literary-fiction

A Naked Singularity
By Sergio de la Pava

I’ve wanted to read this novel for a while - it’s one of those novels that everyone rejected, the author self-published, and then critics discovered. It’s now published by the University of Chicago.

And I loved it. Loved it! But a few disclaimers before you plunge in.

• It’s very long - 674 pages. I like a long book, but this one is a slow starter, and I found the first few pages confusing. But hang in there, dear reader, and you will soon be rewarded.
• No quotation marks for the first 43 pages, which are primarily dialogue. This is a drawback, although once you get into the rhythm of it, you don’t notice so much.
• Many digressions. Just go with the flow. De la Pava wrote this book exactly as he wanted, and the reader goes along for the ride.

But what a great ride! The protagonist, Casi, is a public defender in Brooklyn, and one of the first great scenes in the book plays out as Casi meets with each of his clients for the evening prior to their pleading. Here’s the first interview:
The first case I looked at was Darril Thorton, a yellowback charged with Sex Abuse in the First Degree (PL ɠ130.65130.65). I called his name softly, hoping he wouldn’t answer, but he immediately moved in, a let’s-get-this-over-with look on his face. He spoke first, obviously yelling but still creating only a barely audible signal:
-noise background,

My getting out or what?!

My money’s on what, followed by a pause long enough to be uncomfortable.

Oh, c’mon, I didn’t do nothing man! This is bullshit you got to get me up out of here on the double yo, she’s lying on me!

Easy, hold on, let’s start at the top. Here’s my card. My name’s Casi, I’m going to be your attorney. Let’s see, well, you’re charged with Sex Abuse in the First Degree, that’s a Class D violent felony.

Wait let me see this, holding the ivory rectangle up to the bar-streaked light and nodding negatively, un-uh.

What, uh-uh?

I don’t want you man, starting to walk out but not really.

Why? What’s the problem?

Because man, sitting back down, I wanted an l8B, only thing you guys ever did for me is send me upstate man. No offense but that’s just keeping it real on your ass, pointing but not at it.

Well, whatever, you’re sort of stuck with me so let’s just see how it goes for a bit okay?


Who’s Valerie Griffin?

Man you all right. Okay she’s a crackhead. That’s what I’m trying to tell you officer, I mean lawyer. She’s making up some crazy stuff, everybody knows she’s a fabricator and a confabulator. Everybody knows it!

You know that for a fact?

What, that she confabulates?

No, that she’s a crackhead.

Everybody knows!
This goes on for nearly forty pages - not just this defendant, but a parade of them. It’s certainly an effective way to show the reader the sad state of the judicial system, as it’s quickly apparent that the guilty will not be given a fair shake by the system, and even the innocent are doomed.

Casi is trying hard to do what he can - he’s twenty-four and has yet to lose a case, but it’s little enough. And when an unfair judge hands Casi’s client his first-ever guilty verdict, he is so distraught that he agrees to take part in a drug money heist with a colleague, an event whose planning, execution, and outcome occupy the second half of the book.

This bare-bones description of the plot does little to describe the sprawl and scope of the book, which includes the life story of a boxer from the Dominican Republic, a recipe for empanadas,a few scenes that read like hallucinations and endless philosophical discussions with his friends and colleagues which sound nothing like the dialogue he records at the beginning of the book.

In fact, the writing is generally formal and often convoluted.
Except that almost none of those precepts, those truly tried snippets and individually-wrapped datum that I thought I knew because they’d never previously failed to attach to that fact pattern to the extent that they reflexively exited my mouth promising to reassure with routine, would apply here to DeLeon. And this much should’ve been clear to me from jump based on the eyes I saw.

Because the four eyes that then entered the room were not dull and surrounded by the usual jaded masticated skin so endemic to that spent system. That skin that practically beseeched the clock to tick with greater speed, skin that announced a vacancy and slouched in its chair to make evening plans at 2:00 p.m. no, the eyes I saw then had casually shed that skin and instead now pierced the room with brilliant beams of light; and cast in this new light was the story of how the world looks to a twenty-year-old and what it becomes to a thirty-five-year-old.
But somehow the prose all makes sense in context, and I didn’t find it difficult to read. And Casi is a sympathetic character, one that we root for.

This is a difficult book to explain. The reader can find things to quibble about, but the approach I recommend is to sink into the novel, let it carry you away, and savor the experience.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 3, 2013 – Finished Reading
September 6, 2013 – Shelved
September 6, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed
September 6, 2013 – Shelved as: literary-fiction

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