Sergio De La Pava – For those who like The Wire, rewarding, difficult fiction, literary, high-quality artistic and hilarious yet moving novels

Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity, Xlibris Corporation, 2008.

"A novel wherein Casi, a young NYC public defender and son of Colombian immigrants, will suffer his first loss at trial then seek to reduce the sting of that defeat by using inside information to meticulously plan and execute a heist of illicit millions. Where said actions will not only come to the attention of a persistent police detective but also unleash a menacing giant bent on violent revenge; two pursuers Casi must then outrace while navigating a world expanded by theoretical physics to encompass the rise and fall of boxer Wilfred Benitez, Alabama s death row, psych experiments involving Ralph Kramden, and enough comedic energy to power the stars."

"A Naked Singularity is a perfect example: it s by first-time author Sergio De La Pava, it was published by Xlibris in 2008 with no fanfare and no acclaim, and it s a masterpiece. The book s plot is at once simple a grubbily valorous lawyer in the New York public defender s office buffeted by conscience and tempted by the possibility of an illicit fortune, takes on the case of Alabama death row inmate Jalen Kingg and watches his entire life spin out of control and bewilderingly complex, involving hundreds of outsized characters and thousands of digressions on topics ranging across the entirety of the 21st century intellectual spectrum, from baseball to pop culture to (as its title suggests) particle physics. In its sheer scope, its extended stretches of rhetorical razzle dazzle, and the utterly deadpan way it grapples with all that s darkest in human nature, A Naked Singularity propels the reader into a literary maelstrom worthy of Pynchon, and Gaddis....[T]he fulcrum of criminal justice allows A Naked Singularity to explore the wide array of subjects that obsess its author; whaling gave Melville the same freedom in Moby-Dick, and in both books, characters converse in baroque homilies that are as far from the bulleted minimalism of modern fiction as it s possible to imagine. This is very much the Karamazov, not the Coen, brothers... I didn t miss A Naked Singularity and neither should you." - Steve Donoghue

"What's behind the nature of selfishness? "A Naked Singularity" is a novel about boxer Wilfred Benitez. Using Benitez as the stage, author Sergio De La Pava writes a story that gives readers something to think about. Speaking on the nature of evil, human nature, psychology, Hispanic life, and much more, Pava picks at the readers mind as the story rolls on and hopes to leave them wiser having read it. "A Naked Singularity" is a fine and highly recommended read." - Midwest Book Review

"At the end of 2008, Sergio De La Pava self-published his novel A Naked Singularity, a postmodern, re-envisioned, linguistic assault on the standard crime/heist/legal thriller. It’s very good—one of the best and most original novels of the decade.
It’s narrated by a public defender named Casi. Between his ruminations on boxing, television, philosophical conundrums, the existence of God, the legal system, ethics, morality, how to make empanadas, why you should never talk to the cops, and diverse other subjects, he processes the cases of the criminals who come through his office and works pro bono on a death penalty case involving a mentally retarded man named Jalen Kingg, who is imprisoned in Alabama, while elsewhere in New York an infant has been kidnapped and Casi’s downstairs neighbors are working on bizarre psychological experiments.
It’s one of those fantastic, big, messy books like Darconville’s Cat or Infinite Jest or Women and Men, though it’s not really like any of those books or those writers. Evan Dara’s The Lost Scrapbook and The Easy Chain are perhaps the most apt comparisons, though the heavy use of dialogue will of course bring William Gaddis to mind as well. (I mean messy as a compliment: books that just fill themselves with facts and stories and subplots and digressions and in doing so create a much richer reading experience than novels which only include the details necessary to move the plot forward.)
But see here: I refuse to divulge too much of the plot, because watching it unfold is one of the great joys of the novel. The first 300 pages of A Naked Singularity are a joy to read—frequently very funny, insightful, gripping—for in those 300 pages it’s never entirely clear where, if anywhere, the narrative is going, but then around page 300 you start to get suspicions of what is going to happen and then when it clicks, you realize that De La Pava, in a purposely meandering and thorough manner, has been setting up the final 400 pages, which are an explosion and immensely difficult to stop reading. (The book itself also offers no sort of plot summary on the back, just a quote from the novel.) It’s a masterful display. In the end, it’s a thriller for people who can’t abide mass-market tripe—a wonderfully-written genre novel that’s too smart for its genre (think Plus, Joseph McElroy’s foray into sci-fi).
De La Pava is almost certainly a lawyer himself, or involved in that profession in some manner; otherwise he has gone to great lengths to make it seem that way. The prose in A Naked Singularity is remarkable—De La Pava handles pretty much everything with ease, from the chatter of the criminals to the legalese to the language of deadbeats to the articulation of complex philosophical issues to the narrative nonfiction recounting professional boxing in the seventies and eighties. Much of the early part of the novel has Casi interacting with the people he’s been assigned to defend (all of whom are obviously guilty), courtroom showdowns (both the mundane/routine and the exciting/unexpected), and legal strategizing/philosophizing with his colleagues, all of which display De La Pava’s skill with dialogue, as seen here in Casi’s discussion with a robbery suspect:
Well the fact is that 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.
Great, so where’s the problem?
Well the further fact is we had irreconcilable philosophical differences respecting just how good my opening was.
What’s the opening?
You really want to know?
Sure.
And you won’t tell anyone?
No.
You sure?
Yes. Even if I wanted to, the attorney-client privilege would prevent me. I’d lose my license to thrill.
Casi, who’s never given a last name, talks and listens a lot—long stretches of the novel are composed almost entirely of dialogue, whether through arguments, conversations, or long, slowly related stories (including one of the funniest scatalogical tales in contemporary literature). He’s a wily defender, taking an avant-garde approach in many of his arguments.
The novel takes place in the present but is fortunately free of cellphones/internet/texting/et cetera—one of De La Pava’s several themes is our unhealthy obsession with entertainment and the media. All the descriptions of television (always written “Television” in the novel) are hilarious—it’s a world with commercials-only stations (which people watch!)—and The New York Post’s front-page exclusives are increasingly ridiculous but never enter the realm of the unbelievable.
What I keep coming back to is the audacity of this novel, which is truly a towering, impressive work—De La Pava’s not hesitant to break and then mirror the narrative with the story of professional boxer Wilfred Benitez, or insert a recipe, or the heartbreaking letters between him and Kingg (“I cannot just come and get you out, that’s true. But we can, and will, make it so you cannot be executed”), none of which hinder the narrative but rather shape the entirety of the book, making the actual story and its effect on the characters (and the characters’ actions that shape the story, et cetera) more profound.
It’s mindblowing (but I guess not really) that something this good had to be self-published—not that traditional publishing has recently shown interest in difficult works of genius (Evan Dara’s The Easy Chain—another candidate for best of the decade—seems to have been self-published as well). Without knowing any of the backstory, my suspicion is that no publisher would look at a 689-page debut novel, no matter how good it was. As Casi himself says later, about a lengthy brief he’s written to get a stay of execution for Kingg: “It’s not really that long if you look at it from a certain perspective, provided of course that perspective is one from which things that are very lengthy nonetheless appear to be quite short either due to Lorentz contraction or some other as yet undiscovered phenomenon. I’m sure you know what I mean.”
Near the end of the book, another public defender named Toomberg, speaking about Casi’s brief, could be talking about De La Pava’s novel: “And all that work for nothing. I hate to say it but you may have poured your very soul, as you obviously did, into the creation of this work and it may never be read by anyone [ . . . ] how awful.”
We have to keep that from happening. If you like The Wire, if you like rewarding, difficult fiction, if you like literary, high-quality artistic and hilarious yet moving novels that are difficult to put down, I can’t recommend A Naked Singularity enough." - Scott Bryan Wilson

"The book is narrated by one Casi (Spanish: “almost”; Italian: “cases,” not in the legal sense, but both are applicable here), last name left blank, a 24-year-old public defender in New York. Casi is something of a wunderkind, having maintained a perfect record; over the course of the book, he loses his first case and is brought low by the injustice of the world. The year is 2002; he lives in Brooklyn Heights with a set of college students who seem like they might be a television-mad version of the brothers Karamazov. His family is Colombian; a cousin has been put away for selling hot dogs without a license. The city is obsessed with a pair of seven-year-olds who have murdered an infant; there’s a blackout. A mentally impaired prisoner, failed by the legal system in every possible way, is on death row in Alabama. And there’s a heist, which doesn’t go according to plan: crime is imperfect. Through it all in interpolated a recent history of boxing, having as its center the career of Wilfred Benitez.
The work is meant to speak for itself; there’s something comforting about being back in this space, though the era of the anonymous author has all but vanished. A Naked Singularity, however, loses no time in making clear its antecedents. The book this most resembles is William Gaddis’s A Frolic of His Own, similarly entangled in the legal system; that book’s celebrated first line (“Justice? – you get justice in the next world, in this world, you have the law”) might serve as a theme for this one. De La Pava also shares Gaddis’s knack for unattributed dialogue. There’s an early invocation of the Pynchon of Mason & Dixon: “Now several acorns had successfully flown their sorties, cutting through the frigid air to form interrupted parabolas, when I began to conceive the inconceivable.” (p. 56) Like Gaddis’s and Pynchon’s books, this one is bursting at the seams: court transcripts, letters, and all manner of legal documents find there way in. There are cartoonish names, like in Pynchon, but the clownishness never fully escapes. The language is hyperactive and breathless and might bear the stamp of David Foster Wallace: the word “television,” for example, is always capitalized. But Wallace’s imprint might be found less in the language and more in the book’s deep sense of morality: De La Pava shares Wallace’s concern with how difficult it is to live in a flawed world. Bartleby is invoked, not surprisingly; Dostoevsky is never quite mentioned, though his presence floats through the book (Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, as well as the aforementioned Brothers Karamazov).
It becomes clear to the reader that this isn’t an ordinary work on page 14, when Casi goes off on a two-page digression about the history of Miranda rights, culminating thusly:
The ACLU grabbed the case and 976 days later they were in front of the court that never gets overruled with John Flynn saying, and this is a direct quote (no it isn’t): “look dudes, and I refer to you thusly because this is way pre-O’Connor/Ginsberg, your Fifth Amendment deal is only protecting the rich and powerful: those who are brainy enough to know what their rights are or who have the dough to rent a lawyer.” The Warren Supremes actually agreed and, in the kind of decision that makes maybe five people happy, held that before future police could torment some illiterate sap who nobody cares about into confessing his sins, real or imagined, they would have to inform him of certain rights not covered in your average eighth-grade Social Studies class.
The voice here is what’s astonishing: informed but colloquial, flippant but engaged (there’s a tenderness in “some illiterate sap who nobody cares about”). We can tell exactly what the speaker thinks about the justice of the law (“sins, real or imagined”); but his approach is also pragmatic: this is the America that he has to live in. The breathlessness drives the reader on: while the book is long, it’s never imposing. But most important is the quality of empathy: Casi cares about the illiterate saps in a believable way. This is a book deeply concerned with the preterite: those who don’t have the resources to get themselves represented by others. It’s refreshing to find a recent New York novel that doesn’t bother to mention Williamsburg or Park Slope; the Upper East Side or Upper West Side might be mentioned in passing, but the Village, the East Village, Chelsea, the Lower East Side, the neighborhoods of New York that are seen in movies and literary fiction are absent from this book. There’s plenty left over; but we don’t usually read this.
And this also stands out in that it’s a novel of work: Casi is a public defender, and spends most of his time at his job. The job isn’t lionized here: the protagonist is actively trying to be a good man, but he is decidedly not a hero by virtue of his work alone: the other occupants of his office are noticeably flawed, as he is. The criminal justice system is deeply flawed, as are the people that Casi is given to defend; but it is what there is, and Casi does the best that he can with them. But the job has an inexorable impact on him. This knowledge of one’s own imperfection in the face of the world expands to take over the book: Casi might be any bright young person coming to grips with the world: the heartbreaking career of Wilfred Benitez is made to serve as a sort of parable for the dissolution of dreams.
I’m also struck by how the book, comical as it often is, never has recourse to anything resembling magical realism, for my money one of Pynchon’s primary flaws. The world is often exaggerated in this book – as it well might be when described through a first-person narration – but the world described is always recognizably our own, with all of its horrific flaws. There’s a seriousness underlying this book’s comedy: the book draws its power from the outside world. The joking about the media circus around dead baby Tula that spans the book is funny because we know how sadly real this sort of thing could be.
One can’t help wondering about the author: has he actually worked as a public defender as the abundant legal detail – to say nothing of the clear feeling for the job that comes through – suggests? The effusive acknowledgments page thanks the NYCDS; and a cursory search of Google suggests that someone of the same name was working in legal aid in New York around the time the book is set. A more important question, though: how did the publishing industry fail this book? Someone should be paying Sergio De La Pava for the right to publish him; that work of this caliber is being published by a vanity press is depressing. The publishing industry prides itself on being a filter saving us from the mounds of garbage that are annually written; but honestly, this book could advantageously be pitted against almost any novel published in the past ten years by the big houses – especially the endless raft of New York novels. This is a book that deserves to be read more widely; in a better world, people would be reading this rather than Freedom." - With Hidden Noise

"A Naked Singularity is a wondrous, beautiful mess of a book that I was so absorbed in, I couldn’t put it down. The writing style is great: funny, clever, funny, philosophical, funny, legal, funny and at times rather violent.
I’m torn when writing this how much of the “story” to give away. I didn’t know anything about the book (the blurb on the back is just a quote from the book–there’s no summary or anything). So I’m going to rob you a little of the “what the hell is going on in this story” aspect that I had, but I’m not going to give anything major away.
The story opens in a the middle of a conversation between a prisoner and a lawyer. It’s a bit confusing until the story pulls back and we get the whole deal. The story is about Casi. He is a wunderkind lawyer who has never lost a trial (in 14 attempts). He plays the system, but he’s also dedicated to getting his clients off (even though he–and everyone else on staff–knows they are guilty) mostly because he is undefeated.
The entire first Part of the book (320 pages) introduces us to Casi, to his workload, to his clients, to his coworkers and to his family. His clients are mostly drug dealers. His coworkers are mostly jaded and are no longer excited by their jobs. His family is wonderful, a group of Colombian immigrants who love each other and fight with each other loudly. (The early scene at his family’s house is hilarious scene in which unattributed dialogue overlaps–it’s wonderful).
And yet for all of that, the first part never quite gives us a plot. This might be a problem for some books, but the whole set up is so compelling that you just go with it, from one amusing (or hilarious) segment to the next.
In addition to introducing us to his cast of drug addicts and low level criminals, Casi also indicts the New York Justice system (in hilarious detail). There are quite a few chapter spent talking about “bodies” (criminals) and how many of them sit in jail for 72 hours until they see a lawyer.
Of course, when he gets home, all is not normal there either. His apartment is free (because his downstairs neighbor’s father owns the building and Casi squats there). The neighbors are a curious bunch of college students. One of them is a total TV junkie. And, there’s a bizarre, wonderful subplot about him trying to bring Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners to life in his room by watching the shows nonstop for weeks. Yes.
Textually, the story also plays with lots of styles. In addition to the dramatic scene with his family, we also see many court transcripts. The second one with Mr McSlappahan is quite funny not least of which because the judge cannot get the poor man’s name right and the official transcript changes his name throughout the case. There are also letters to and from one of the clients. There’s a chapter-long epic poem (which was probably the hardest thing in the book for me to digest). There’s even a recipe for empanadas (which sounds delicious).
In addition to some wonderful wordplay and punning there is also childish gross-out humor. A scene with frozen burritos (pp. 150-158) had me laughing out loud for several pages. But there’s also a lot of commentaries on society. For instance Television is always capitalized and treated as a proper noun. The mayor of New York is named Toad. There are street vigilantes with cameras everywhere and, most amusingly, there’s an in-the-making TV show: Clerical Confessions.
By the time Part Two comes around a plot starts forming. I was concerned that all of part two would follow this nascent plot, but it doesn’t. The book continues in a similar vein with the plot-instigator [coworker and lawyer, Dane, one of the most consistently amusing characters I've read in a long time] continually popping up on Casi’s periphery to try to get him to help him with…the perfect crime.
And that’s when boxing comes into play. Casi is a fan of boxing, specifically a fan of Wilfred Benítez (who I didn’t know was a real boxer, but whenI looked him up I found this part of the story even more compelling). And so, interspersed throughout the rest of the book is Benítez’ biography and fight history. It’s a rather lengthy character study of the man himself and boxing in general. Now, I’m not a fan of boxing, I’ve never watched a fight, but I was totally engrossed by the storytelling.
Because he is setting up a whole story about muiddleweight champiosn, the novel follows many boxers who I had heard of and knew from pop culture (I checked and even Sarah knew who most of these boxers were, so they really must get into the pop culture world): Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns (I didn’t know him, but De La Pava’s description of the 3 round Hearns-Hagler fight is so exciting that I’m going to watch them on You Tube) and Roberto Durán (she didn’t know him). And so the story of these middleweight fighters trying to knock each other over for the title becomes something of a metaphor for the Casi’s life pre- and post- crime. In fact, when they go to execute the perfect crime, the first half of that chapter is taken up with a story about Benítez…that’s quite unexpected.
While the crime is beign set up, Toom, one of Casi’s coworkers asks him to help with a case in Alabama. A severely mentally retarded man is to be executed and Toom has taken on the case to rescue the man. This plot adds a surprising amount of pathos to the story, especially when Casi flies to Alabama and meets the man. But even that sequence is lightened by a wonderfully absurd hotel scene. I totally want to stay at this hotel.
Part Three of the story is where the whole thing devolves into a crazy quilt of insanity. The crime has happened, and it is messing with everything. There is a city-wide blackout, Casi has no heat, no cars are allowed on the streets so he can’t even escape to his mother’s house. There’s also a strange guy in is building who looks and sounds suspiciously like Ralph Kramden. And, Casi is accused of contempt (and is about to be ousted by his law office’s morals group, the childish but amusingly named Committee to Oust Casi Kwickly). Both trials are as absurd as a Marx brothers movie (Karl of Groucho?).
The lead up to the end is very satisfying will all kinds of loose ends tied together (things that I thought he’s never address were in fact cleared up!). But with a story this all over the place, it’s hard to imagine how you would finally end it. The ending goes in a direction that is supported by the title (and is a little overwhelming). It’s a little unsatisfying, but aside from a tidy happy ending (which you knew you weren’t getting) I don’t know how else you could have ended the book.
Ending aside, this is a fantastic novel. There is just so much going on in it (I didn’t even mention the discussion of Hume vs Descartes “I guessed there was nothing wrong with Hume provided it was acknowledged that Descartes was The Man” (510)) or the whole subplot about the two kids who kidnap a baby), and it is very well constructed and tied together.
Somebody please publish this book officially! Yes it’s long, yes it’s multifaceted, yes it demands a lot of the reader,but the payoffs are wonderful and, frankly, this is the kind of unexpected story that could be embraced by, well, not the general public, but a niche market who enjoys clever books (and yes, probably fans of David Foster Wallace (and his progenitors))." - Paul Debraski
"A 700-page self-published novel. I can't think of anything I'm less likely to read apart from maybe anything by Dan Brown. Or Jeffrey Archer. Or Mills and Boon. Actually scratch those, why on earth would I bother to buy a novel that couldn't get a single publisher to take it on, and a long one at that? Because some reviews are tempting, and I'm up for a challenge, and something about it lit a fuse within me. A review that alludes to Pynchon, Gaddis, Melville, Dostoevsky and Rabelais might just as easily send you running for cover as rushing to see what's within the covers but it does at least give an indication of the ambition and scope of this leviathan. This book certainly won't be to all tastes but if you like any of the writers above and might be goaded into action by a book that says, 'Go on, I dare you' then I dare you too.
A Naked Singularity is one of those books so large, so ambitious and so bonkers that it makes the task of writing a review almost impossible. You either write something as bloated as the book itself in an attempt to include all of its maddening variety or you end up paralysed and providing little more than a pithy summary and some hyperbole. Let's see if we can find a compromise but I make no promises. The book does at least have a single, central character. Casi ('kind of like Lassie but not really') is a public defender in New York. We never learn more than his first name but learn its interesting origin from his mother at a gathering of his Colombian family.
'I almost died during the delivery Dios mio. The next day they asked me if I had a name yet. I said casi because we were getting close to deciding, I kept waiting for them to ask me again but that's the name they put down.'
In a fabulous opening we are thrown into his daily existence as a lawyer representing those that far from being presumed innocent are usually regarded as guilty, that fact having very little to do with whether they can be got off or not. In fact Casi is quick to correct one client who thinks his lawyer needs to believe in his innocence.
"You're wrong I don't, I just don't. It's not going to make me work harder on your case like in some stupid movie and it's certainly not going to make it any more likely that you walk. In fact, if you really are innocent then it's probably going to hurt you and your case more than anything because, for one thing, I would probably be so distracted by the novelty of the situation I'd be rendered ineffective..."
It is a great opening for two reasons the first of those being De La Pava's ease with the technicalities of law enforcement, legal process and the underbelly of New York. There's jargon flying about all over the place, a feeling familiar to anyone who has watched The Wire, something that I find pleasingly intoxicating and it isn't long before you feel you're starting to get a handle on how it all works. With so many crimes and misdemeanours Casi's perspective is that the police have 'the special ability to in effect create Crime by making an arrest almost whenever they wished, so widespread was wrongdoing' this decision often based on 'the relevant officers' need for overtime'. So we quickly meet his caseload and this is where the second strength immediately comes into play. The snappy dialogue of these early interviews is brilliant, idiomatic and well-observed. In fact it's in stark contrast to most of the dialogue in the book which can be florid, digressive, erudite, verbose, sometimes all at once - oh, and I mean that in a positive sense. Casi has warned us early on after all that he 'can wander a bit whilst storytelling' but some friends and colleagues also have a tendency to hold forth (with, for example, the 'mind numbing, intentionally yawn-inducing detail meant to replicate the utter inanity of such societal questions' as one character puts it later)
One in particular is a fellow lawyer called Dane who drives what you might call the plot. Dane has theories about many things but one of his obsessions is the pursuit of perfection. How on earth can we achieve perfection in such an imperfect world? Following on from his interest in perfect numbers (those numbers that are the sum of their divisors, excluding the number itself e.g. 6 (1+2+3=6) and 28 (1+2+4+7+14=28)) Dane determined to offer the perfect defence to one of his clients (number 6 on his caseload naturally). What is a perfect defence? Not just an acquittal but the most rigorous preparation for trial ever mustered so that acquittal is guaranteed. His research extended from an in depth knowledge of the case and even the possible judges, with a little manoeuvre to make sure that they would be assigned the one most favourable to their case, to a similar familiarity with his client. It may surprise you to know that the pursuit of perfection means a crash course in crack smoking so as to be able to empathise and understand one's client all the more effectively. That kind of commitment combined with another of Dane's obsessions, the human desire to leave a legacy, leads him to propose something equally shocking to Casi when their discussions lead them around to the allure of the heist.
"But then you need the will Casi. The will to execute it the one chance you get. This is where the adrenaline comes from and this is the universal attraction. This is why people love crime, the singularity of the will involved. And don't tell me people don't love crime to the point of near obsession. Just look at the newspapers, the visual news, and all other forms of popular entertainment, crime is their favourite process. The only question is whether crime is inherently a perversion, meaning error is necessarily built into it, or whether some degree of perfection can be achieved in that area."
"Meaning?"
"Meaning the commission of a truly perfect crime."
"Oh."
"Possible?"
"Guess anything's possible Dane."
"And everything."
"So get cracking on it, could be your legacy."
Casi will live to regret giving Dane any encouragement in that direction, but I don't want to spoil anything by saying any more about the plan to commit the perfect crime itself. What is just as important as the thriller-like plan is what it means to each man. Casi's relationship to the plan is 'dysfunctional', for all his involvement in its formation he has his eye firmly on a hasty exit and yet something keeps him involved, something to do with the visceral connection this gives him to underbelly he is used to representing and the ability to impose his moral imperative at the same time (If reality is sometimes so intense and bizarre that it feels like bad, unpersuasive fiction, then this was fiction so powerful it outrealized reality.). Dane needs Casi for the plan's fruition, he knows instinctively that two heads are better than one and that Casi's own natural tendencies towards caution and disbelief will be the perfect partner to his own total conviction.
"You're as capable of perfection as I am. Join me in this and learn what it means to truly exhaust a potentiality."
I couldn't help but be reminded of the verbal sparring and jockeying of Tyler Durden and the Narrator in Fight Club. This mismatched pair have a lot to offer each other and the extraordinary conversations between the two of them and the thrust of the plot itself might be enough for some writers but De La Pava has much more in his sights. The novel is like a compendium. We have already encountered themes like justice, perfection and legacy; dialogue that ranges from the pithy to the polemic; characters that manage to attach themselves to your reading consciousness whether they are granted several chapters or a single paragraph. But there are also thought experiments in which another tenant in Casi's building aims to watch a TV series in its entirety, without commercial interruption, from start to finish, in order to prove his hypothesis that it will make the main character contained within as real or manifest as anyone else in his life. There is a satirical look at our reality obsessed Television (that word always significantly capitalised) and the public bands armed with cameras, known as the Video Vigilantes, who provide news outlets with footage of the gruesome crime-de-jour (a child abduction and murder that will have UK readers thinking of Jamie Bulger), and even the sanctity of the church confessional is in danger of being invaded by video cameras and our leering gaze for a new TV series ('It's not TV, it's HBO' - shouts the priest as comfort).
Significant sections of the novel are given over to the history of boxing involving one fighter in particular: Wilfred Benitez. I have no real interest in boxing but there was something fascinating about such a comprehensive examination of one man's career, particularly someone I had never heard of and yet who to this day holds the record as the youngest World Champion (he was just 17 when he won the light welterweight title in 1976). Benitez was famed for his defensive skills, seeming to hold an almost telepathic ability to evade blows, leading one opponent, Sugar Ray Leonard, to comment, 'It was though I was looking into the mirror... I mean no one can make me miss punches like that.' Like the best sports writing it makes you want to watch footage of it immediately, possible with ease thanks to YouTube, and that in turn makes you realise how good the prose description is, the detail of movement it contains like watching slow-motion footage with expert commentary. What is the purpose of these boxing sections amidst the plot of a crime thriller? That theme of legacy is one connection, a boxer's career defined by three numbers, the most vital of statistics, that measure wins, draws and losses (with KO's in brackets), that are often all that's left behind by those like Benitez who find themselves close to penniless at the end of their career and even their own memories destroyed by the degenerative brain disease that is the true legacy of those punishing blows in the ring. Boxing also picks up on the decisive moment, the need to face one's fear and not run away. There comes that moment in a fight when you get hit, hard, and then there's a decision to make. Do you go into a defensive shell, lose on points, sure, but 'avoid embarrassment and avoid needless pain'? Or do you step into the danger area and fight, make sure that if the other guy wants victory he will have to wrest it from you? That same choice is faced by Casi and Dane as they stand on the cusp of action in a moment typical of this novel's audacity. Invoking the theodicy of Leibniz and the modal realism of David Lewis, Dane uses his belief in all possible worlds to argue for what he sees as their only course of action.
"And I have nothing but contempt for these people, if you can call them that, who will turn around at this point," he said. "And when I think that one of them looks just like me and has the audacity to go around calling himself Dane it makes me want to draw blood from the anger. Remember that because right now it is certainly at least possible that you and I will go get that money, that means at least two of our counterparts will in fact get it. Don't we need to be those two? Of course we do, it absolutely must be us. I don't care what it entails. You have total power and control here. You just have to decide who you want to be and that's who'll you become."
Melville was mentioned earlier and there are many comparisons to be made with Moby-Dick, comparisons invited by De La Pava by his naming the novel's giant, almost non-human nemesis Baleena (balena being Spanish for whale). Melville's masterpiece received a mixed and often baffled response on its publication but now stands as one of the cornerstones of American literature. It's not possible to know what fate has in store for this leviathan, although we can say that in at least one possible world it is a bestseller, but De La Pava is well aware of what is at stake. After working tirelessly on an appeal document Casi is brought face to face with another possibility.
"I hate to say it but you may have poured your very soul, as you obviously did, into the creation of this work and it may never be read by anyone, it may never so much as influence a single person's actions. I just came to that realization, how awful."
It's tempting to say it would be a crime if that turned out to be the case, but the awfulness of the pun aside it's already inaccurate. More positive responses from readers and reviewers are certain to follow and if there is a publisher (and editor) with enough balls out there then there's no reason why this world shouldn't be the best of all those possible for De La Pava.
Oh, and I haven't yet explained what a naked singularity is. Here goes: The gravitational force around a black hole is so strong that light emitted from beyond that singularity's 'event horizon' cannot reach the observer. This means that the singularity cannot be directly observed. A naked singularity is a (so far) theoretical singularity with no event horizon and therefore observable from the outside. I'm not going to tell you how that fits into all of the above and you'll have to read until the very last page if you want to find out. Go on, I dare you." - William Rycroft

"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." - Jeffrey Paris

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