A Naked Singularity tricked me. I don’t mean the author, Sergio de la Pava, tricked me. Nor do I mean, Casi, public defender, narrator, tricked me. No, the book itself tricked me. I saw its spine, psychedelic with white and black and fuschia design and lettering. It called to me to pick it up. I did. I read the back and thought, sounds ok. But maybe I just want to read it because the cover is beautiful. I put it down. I would not pick up a 678 page book for $18 by an author I never heard of because it was pretty. I am not that easily seduced. I walked away. But later I wondered about the book. Did I use the book’s length as an excuse? Was I lazy? Was I not giving a new author a chance? I picked up the book at another bookstore and pondered it again. No, still not what I wanted. I thought about it so more. Did I pick it up the second time because it was so pretty? So I looked at it a third time at the first bookstore. This time I reread the blurb and decided it was for me.
I took it home and it mocked me on my bookcase. For months I did not read it. Finally, I began reading it. I could not put it down. I read three hundred pages in three days. I started to get a little depressed. I started to get frantic. I started to be affected by this damn book. I live alone with a cat and we spent six hours at a time without any sound beyond the fern blowing in the wind outside our window while Hermione lazily followed the sunspot on my bed.
Casi, twenty-four years old, a first generation Colombian American becomes a public defender in Manhattan. He lives in Brooklyn while his family lives in the tri-state area. He defends the accused because someone needs to. “I was supposed to get him home. No one else cared or was supposed to.” (73) He is villified by others for defending known criminals. Casi notes that many of his clients came from troubled homes or are vilified for their addictions.
More and more characters are introduced and I cannot keep them straight. And plot lines begin that I forget about only to reappear 100 pages later. A baby is kidnapped outside of a store. Uncle Sam follows Casi across the Brooklyn Bridge with a Chimp (Uncle Sam has The Chimp, not Casi). His neighbor watches the Honeymooners on constant rotation because he believes he can bring Jackie Gleason’s character, Ralph Kramden into reality. There are chapters upon chapters devoted to boxers and their fights. We delve into a six cases that Casi has. We meet Casi’s family. Casi goes on a date with a plastic surgeon because his sister set him up. Casi finds out about a huge drug deal that will involve ten million dollars plus more than that amount in coke. A new guy, Dale, joins the law firm and convinces Casi to steal the money and the drugs because the drug dealers don’t deserve the money. Casi goes to Alabama to meet a death row inmate that he was assigned to assist in overturning his death sentence. There’s oh so much talk about morality. And perfection, and the pursuit of perfection. And trying the perfect case. But because the case wasn’t tried perfectly, Dale wants to commit the perfect crime. There’s a city wide black out. It’s always snowing and cold. (I read this book during a heatwave in SF.) The narrator, Casi, is losing it. I can’t tell if Dale is real or not. I can’t tell if the crime is committed or not. Jackie Gleason shows up. No, Ralph Kramden shows up. No wait, an actor playing him shows up. I don’t know what the hell is going on and I’m starting to get a bit frantic. I want some order. I want to know what is going on. I want to know what is real and what isn’t. I don’t know if de la Pava pulled a Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk. Is Casi Patrick Bateman? Is Casi the narrator of Fight Club? He is intelligent, he’s good looking, he is loquacious. He knows the law, he knows science, he knows philosophy. And yet, he cannot seem to connect with anyone in this book. But he cares about people. And de la Pava certainly is not pulling an Ellis or Palahniuk. His character might be living in an alternate reality, one in which he chooses to commit the crime but in another reality he chooses not to. And so this theory of Casi just being insane and not revealing the truth/ living out his fantasies does not seem right.
This book upset me. But in the way good literature does. I will think about this book for years and wonder what happened. I’ll go through my notes and try to figure out what happened. But there is a part of me that does not think there is an answer. The title, A Naked Singularity is taken from a theory relating to black holes
Our universe is collapsing into a singularity. Slowly, I admit, but it’s happening. And not the kind of singularities found in black holes either. No. What we’re headed for is what theorists call a naked singularity. One not cloaked by the shadow of a surrounding black hole. One apparent and visible with effects we’re all feeling Predictability, Space, Time, the physical laws, they mean less with every passing second and soon enough they’ll mean absolutely nothing. (661)
There is a lot of talk about multiple realities in A Naked Singularity. Perhaps de la Pava gave us all the different realities in one book. “I need to forget all this. I need to feel a sense of accomplishment, of forward momentum. Need to feel that a discrete, meaningful segment is behind me. That this person who squeezes into the subway in the morning and waits for orders isn’t the real me. I’m in a hurry to feel this too.” (313).
Sergio de la Pava, A Naked Singularity. Chicago Press: Chicago, 2012.