I must preface this article by mentioning that I’m a mere 315 pages into the 678 page behemoth that is Sergio De La Pava’s “A Naked Singularity.”
While this fact assuredly contributes to this being an incomplete and possibly irrelevant review, the power and energy that emanates from the first half of this novel compels me to pass on this literary gem. And though this is most definitely an original novel, the imperfect maximalist prose and the comically exaggerated stories (Eschaton anyone?) clearly owes its debt to the late David Foster Wallace.
Quite honestly, I’ve never found the intricacies of the Criminal justice system, nor the daily ruminations of a public defender that entertaining, but that’s precisely the setting in which we find De La Pava’s novel exploring the life of Casi, a public defender in the heart of New York City.
De La Pava seems to take a wide angle lens at the defunct criminal system in America, exposing not blatant individual moral corruption, but a system which encourages inefficiencies and continually stacks against the uneducated poverty stricken regions.
It’s a view that would make David Simon and any fan of “The Wire” proud.
What makes “A Naked Singularity” so great isn’t just the intriguing setting, but De La Pava’s ability to submerse the reader in a world full of rich diverse voices with encyclopedic knowledge. Through these voices, we find philosophical rants, hilarious tales, and identifiable musings on profound topics such as racism to more simple topics like dating.
Take a look at this passage on the nature of dating, which is so reminiscent of Wallace’s painstakingly self-conscious awareness:
“What you have is two people who want the other person to be impressed by them.
“But there’s a self-defense element as well so one of the things they want the other person to be impressed by is how little they need that person’s validation. Look at me, they say nonverbally, I am one impressive, self-contained mother – - who doesn’t really need your approval but please agree with this self-assessment or else I might start to doubt this perception of mine which deep down I don’t really believe.
“And therein lies the beautiful irony of it all. The beauty is that while these two people are expending tremendous effort, and considerable subterfuge, to create an impressive veneer they are actually subverting their chances of making a connection, the purported goal of the date.”
De La Pava clearly has a distinct voice for the quick witted lawyers that dominate the pages, especially the highly entertaining dialogues between Casi and fellow co-worker Dane, the voice of the above passage.
But it’s his talent for lending his voice to the low income criminals that display what a remarkable talent De La Pava truly is. He gives us glimpses of the world seen through the eyes of these characters, and it’s not an easy task to project identifiable characters to the reader in such an intimate way. De La Pava pulls it off.
The similarities in style with Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” are striking. De la Pava uses a rambling, imperfect, beautiful maximalist prose that engulfs the reader into the frenzied consciousness of the narrator, a prose that became a hallmark of Wallace’s work.
His use of diverse voices and almost painfully scrutinized self-conscious awareness also reflect Wallace in the best of ways.
Finally, the side-splitting comedic tales told sporadically in the novel are a reminder of the influence of “Infinite Jest’s” Eschaton scene.
It’s not often I found myself laughing uncontrollably to a novel, but De La Pava makes it happen.
Please don’t misinterpret that “A Naked Singularity’s” similarities with “Infinite Jest” make it bad or cheap or distasteful in any way; De La Pava makes this his own original work with a voice that doesn’t feel forced, a voice that is clearly Sergio De La Pava.
This powerful work shows the true breadth of influence that Wallace is beginning to have on authors, and that may be a very good thing.
I advocate serious readers to sit down with “A Naked Singularity” because it has reminded me once again of the intimate relationship between author and reader, and why the novel is still so effective as an art form.