Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Naked Singularity

Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity is the most impressive debut novel I've read since William T. Vollman's You Bright And Risen Angels. And though I suspect that book is unfamiliar to you, I request that you trust me when I say that this is high praise. Want more familiar touchstones? Well, that would take a less interesting novel.

A Naked Singularity revolves around a young defense attorney named Casi who has never lost a case that went to trial. He lives in Brooklyn, a place the author bio on the back assures us that de la Pava does not live. We begin with a series of interviews he performs with the night's arrested, followed almost immediately by their bail hearings, a section of the book that is openly hilarious as well as clearly questioning the justice system. From there the book proceeds to continue with both the humor and questions throughout its remainder, to great effect. Often a loner at the office, Casi befriends a fellow attorney named Dane who is interested in the pursuit of perfection, a cause which in the past has lead him to smoke crack. Dane draws Casi to plan a perfect crime using information from one of Casi's clients, a cause which seems in no way complicated by the fact that Dane never appears when anyone else is around. In opposition to their proposed crime is a larger-than-life character called Ballena, who may exist or may be symbolic (This is not to say he does not exist in the world of the book. He certainly does. However, I favor a slightly-less-literal interpretation). Does this have your attention yet? If not, I don't think I want to spend time with you anymore.

Sprinkled throughout are scenes with Casi's family, Colombian immigrants on both sides of the law. These never really tie into the book's main themes, but they have the courtesy to not drag. As things progress, Casi's views of justice shake and change, leading to one especially wonderful legal brief. He runs afoul of both the judges he defends clients in front of and his co-workers. He has lengthy discussions on the nature of God with his Landlord and said authority figure's roommates, one of whom is attempting to bring Ralph Kramden to life by watching The Honeymooners endlessly via DVR (Other letters are involved in the acronym). And once again, yes, this is a comedy.

Are there bum notes along the way? Absolutely. One philosophical discussion with his fellow buildingmates involves the exponential pace of human invention, a conversation which calls into question the reverence the book places on Television, a noun which is always capitalized. Some of the family set pieces are not at all necessary. And the book does drag a bit in the middle part. But with the scope of the issues the novel tackles, which come to a semi-climax in Casi's co-defense of a mentally-challenged man sentenced to death in Alabama, more than merit a misstep or two for the insight and impact the book places on many of the issues we as humans face nowadays, both those covered by Dostoyevsky and those which have come up since. If you are interested in contemporary fiction in almost any way, and especially fiction attempting to push for importance beyond the medium, you should have stopped reading this a while ago and found yourself a copy of this book. And as to how it ends up, as they say:

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

No comments: