A Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity



The Pequod Review:

Narrated in the first-person by Casi, a Colombian-American public defender, A Naked Singularity is a sprawling and literate novel that centers on the American criminal justice system. The book recounts Casi’s experiences navigating the Manhattan court system — its desperate clients, impatient judges, and peculiar cases — and is based on Sergio de la Pava’s own first-hand experience as a New York City public defender. It also has entertaining tangents and digressions on dozens of other topics (boxing, television, philosophy, religion, food, and more), all of which coalesce around a central narrative involving an attempted heist by a fellow lawyer of an upper-level drug dealer.

It’s hard to describe how enjoyable this book is; de la Pava's prose is an intricate delight. In the book’s first section, there are hilarious moments of dialogue between Casi and his clients:

CLIENT: I lived in the park that’s why I was always playing chess there. Anyway I noticed that this man, Mr. David Sanders, would come and observe on quite a few occasions and so we got to conversating.

CASI: You became friends.

CLIENT: Now don’t go jumping the gun that’s the problem with you youngsters nowadays. We didn’t become friends at all in fact we were in constant disputation.

CASI: About what?

CLIENT: Well the fact is I done come up with a new chess opening. And the truth is that this chess opening has confounded the grandmasters and dumbfounded the neophytes.

CASI: Great, so where’s the problem?

CLIENT: Well the further fact is we had irreconcilable philosophical differences respecting just how good my opening was.

CASI: What’s the opening?

CLIENT: You really want to know?

CASI: Sure.

CLIENT: And you won’t tell anyone?


CLIENT: You sure?

CASI: Yes. Even if I wanted to, the attorney-client privilege would prevent me. I would lose my license to thrill.

CLIENT: It’s a queen’s rook pawn opening.

CASI: Certainly unique but it seems like you would have a big problem with development.

CLIENT: You see that’s exactly what he said! Whose side are you on anyway?

And it sometimes builds to moments of real insight:

It's hard to imagine any group of people being held in less esteem than we are by our clients. The overwhelming majority of them feel that we are either bumbling incompetents -- otherwise why aren't we in private practice making real money -- or, even worse, actively conspiring with the DA against them as evidenced by the fact that we know and appear to act friendly towards a lot of these people who are prosecuting them.

This novel isn’t for everyone — the narrative is messy and overstuffed, as de la Pava has seemingly poured out everything onto the page. But it is highly recommended for fans of maximalist fiction like William Gaddis or David Foster Wallace. (In an indictment of the American publishing system, the book was initially turned down by eighty-eight publishers, ultimately self-published on Xlibris, and became a success only through an extraordinary word-of-mouth campaign that led to a publishing contract with the University of Chicago Press.)