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A Naked Singularity

by Sergio De La Pava

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A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
© University of Chicago Press
The University of Chicago Press, April 2012

Stepping boldly into the realm of contemporary fiction, The University of Chicago Press has cherry-picked Sergio De La Pava's exceptionally good self-published novel, A Naked Singularity, to be saved from the 21st-century slush pile that is on-demand printing. Recently re-released, this is indeed a novel that is too good to go unnoticed, fit for shelving amongst the best and most challenging of the post-modern canon. A Naked Singularity tells the story of twenty-four year old Casi, a Manhattan public defender of Colombian descent who has never lost a case. He is very well versed in law, and often antagonistic in his over-confidence:

"THE COURT: Counsel, I have heard your argument and repeating it doesn't make it any better or stronger.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: I agree in that it couldn't possibly be any stronger..."


De La Pava brings his readers through a dizzying range of legal battles, each of which expose the many cracks in our seemingly well-structured judicial system. Drifting between courtroom transcripts, meanderingly verbose luncheons, and the occasional awkward social outing, A Naked Singularity shows what happens when someone tries to master a broken machine: De La Pava's New York does not function on logic and order and is prone to unravel at the slightest provocation.

The novel exists in that blurry Pynchonian space between metaphor and coincidence, a realm well situated for exploring its many labyrinthine nooks of perceived and potential meaning. These literary crevices are also devastatingly easy to bypass: long tangential plots can be skimmed with very little damage to the novel's surprisingly driving arc. De La Pava writes with a well-oiled machination: the novel chugs forward at an almost clerical pace, plodding over a seemingly endless riddling of contemplative trapdoors. Those readers up to the challenge will revel in exploring De La Pava's many distractions, and relish these endlessly unspooling black holes of logic and legalese.
Much of the novel is composed of stacks of dialogue between Casi and his associates at the courthouse. These scenes provide an interesting comparison to the occasional courtroom transcripts that are peppered throughout A Naked Singularity and make a purposeful statement about how definitive legal rulings are based entirely on spoken facts and almost devoid of any subjective, situational influence. This sort of dialogue reads unspeakably fast and it's easy to lose one's bearing on who is actually saying what. This could be considered a fault, but it is a welcome shift from De La Pava's erudite, philosophical prose.

With hardly any character development, the pacing in these scenes is paramount. After pages of rapid-fire exchange, De La Pava will frequently unhinge his speakers and allow them however long they need to execute some grand solilquoy:

"Well I'm going to get some [coffee], would you like me to bring you back some form of beverage?"
"Yes."
"Coffee?"
"Yes."
"How?"
"I'm easy, just get me one of those I think it's called a fatslap-push-push-in-the-bush-consigliere-capillay-freezy-supremicious or something, extra non-decaf please. Now when the guy pours the espresso into the foamy milk please make sure he pierces the smallest possible area of the upper foam. The result should be akin to a brown pin prick in a sea of white..."

In this instance, Casi's drink order continues down the length of the page, almost twenty-five more lines than the above excerpt. The first few times De La Pava uses this trick, it reads like the literary equivalent of that scene in science-fiction films where time stops but the protagonist can still move as normal. By eliminating all normal conversational structure, we're allowed to drift amongst the free-floating detritus of De La Pava's ideas of media saturation and the broken legal system, collect a handful of resonant ideas, and hit the ground with a sprint.

Despite its heft, A Naked Singularity moves quickly into a shady heist plot and attempts a long-form metaphor by introducing the story of Puerto Rican boxer Wilfred Benitez. Some of these threads would have benefited from some decisive editing, but part of the joy of A Naked Singularity is experiencing all that De La Pava's crammed into its pages. It's staggering to think this novel is De La Pava's major publishing launch: A Naked Singularity is considerably better than most debuts and has unquestionably rendered De La Pava as an author to watch.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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