A Naked Singularity
Like a number of others who were internettedly active during Infinite Summer, I received a copy of a self-published novel along with a very nice, personalized note, referring not only to my work on IJ but also my philosophical writings on imprisonment and science fiction. The novel is A Naked Singularity, written by Sergio De La Pava and “crafted” via Xlibris in 2008. Not only is it a worthwhile and entertaining read, it was perhaps the first book I’ve read since Infinite Jest last year that left me more than a bit sorry when its 687th page came to a close.
The tale is of just-turning-24 year old Casi, an extraordinarily talented New York City public defender, during the coldest winter days of what appears to be the year 2002. It is not, however, a post-9/11 novel, but rather one in which Time and Space undergo a bit of progressive bending, resulting in some highly comic moments (including a disciplinary hearing held under the acronym COCK: Committee to Oust Casi Kwickly, and an unusual series of hallway meetings with Ralph Kramden).
These comic moments, though, are laid on top of a deadly serious analysis of Great Issues such as crime, tragedy, aging and death, knowledge and ignorance, good and evil, and boxing (yes, boxing!), in which De La Pava does a good job of incorporating tales that stem from what appears to be a very good undergraduate education in philosophy – running mostly from Descartes and Hume to David Lewis. The disappearance of an infant from her baby carriage outside a store casts a bit of a pall, and is bended into the ongoing tribulations of the drug addicts who are in and out of the Center Street Courtrooms, as well as a mentally-challenged death row inmate in Alabama. Casi’s family and his lawyer co-workers are painted quite brilliantly (especially eventual co-conspirator Dane), and thus the slip-sliding between the comic and the tragic shows remarkable deftness.
De La Pava shows some daring and inventiveness when it comes to language and dialogue (there’s a great poem, for instance, read to the silent-but-angelic young niece; the courtroom transcripts are absolutely hilarious; and the series of letters between Casi and Jalen Kingg, the death row inmate, is heart-stoppingly powerful). Like at least one other reviewer of this book, I would have liked to see more of this textual inventiveness, but one takes and appreciates what one gets, I guess, and in any case this book has far more than most. Did mention it is of the laugh-out-loud variety, and that most of the jokes are original?
Some readers will surely think the book is “sprawling,” but it never even threatens to spin out of control. The narrative is compelling – I didn’t put the book down for two days until I had finished it. As for the inevitable DFW comparisons? They are not really that appropriate, except for the fact that (a) the book is long, (b) it is smart and funny, (c) it deals very seriously with Entertainment, (d) it uses boxing instead of tennis to question the meaning of life, and there’s probably an (e), (f), and (g). For people who think IJ is too hard, you can try giving them this DFW-“lite” book, and showing them that a good sprawl will stay with you a lot longer than 99% of the books out there, and then turn them back towards IJ.
Will somebody please pay this man to have A Naked Singularity properly published, and give him an advance on his next book, please? And if they do, will I get a free copy of that one, too? I will take it, gladly. And if I don’t get one, I would buy it.