A Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity

Book - 2012
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"A Naked Singularity tells the story of Casi, a child of Colombian immigrants who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan as a public defender--one who, tellingly has never lost a trial. Never. In the book, we watch what happens when his sense of justice and even his sense of self begin to crack--and how his world then slowly devolves. It's a huge, ambitious novel clearly in the vein of DeLillo, Foster Wallace, Pynchon, and even Melville, and it's told in a distinct, frequently hilarious voice, with a striking human empathy at its center. Its panoramic reach takes readers through crime and courts, immigrant families and urban blight, media savagery and media satire, scatology and boxing, and even a breathless heist worthy of any crime novel. If Infinite Jest stuck a pin in the map of mid-90s culture and drew our trajectory from there, A Naked Singularity does the same for the feeling of surfeit, brokenness, and exhaustion that permeates our civic and cultural life today. In the opening sentence of William Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own, a character sneers, 'Justice? You get justice in the next world. In this world, you get the law.' A Naked Singularity reveals the extent of that gap, and lands firmly on the side of those who are forever getting the law"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2012
Edition: University of Chicago Press edition
Copyright Date: ©2008
ISBN: 9780226141794
Branch Call Number: FICTION PAVA 2012
Characteristics: 678 pages ; 23 cm


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Mar 11, 2016

(My review is based on the Xlibris edition that Sergio De La Pava self-published. It is my understanding there is no major difference with the Univ. of Chicago Press edition.)

So...what is a naked singularity? Without going into much detail (that’s what the link is for), it’s a black hole that can be observed from the outside. For the book, the metaphor is explicitly used toward the end as Casi’s world collapses on itself and we’re allowed to view it. But for the rest of the novel, it’s a metaphor for the reader’s ability to watch ___________(fill in the blank: the breakdown of Casi’s world; the black hole of the modern criminal justice system; other mentioned failures of modern life).

The commentary on the criminal justice system proves to be fairly devastating. As a public defender, Casi doesn’t hide the fact that his clients are guilty and often screw-ups of the highest order. Yet they deserve a fair trial, something difficult in a system rigged for…well, it’s difficult to tell exactly what it’s supposed to do at times. Early in the book there is an exchange between Casi and the judge that sums up that confusion:

Casi: Can’t we just do the right thing here.” …

Judge: “I’m not interested in doing the "right thing" as you call it.”

One of the sub-themes I enjoyed, and there are many, involves the question of what makes a person real to us? “How does someone go from being a collection of flesh and bone who generally occupies the same space as us to being a real person who has an inner life that we, on some level, care about.” How do you get beyond the self? What makes you respond to one person in need while remaining indifferent to others?

I loved the first half of the book, but when it shifted to the planning and execution of a heist, that part didn’t hook me the way the rest of the book did. There are several reasons for that—some have to do with my preferences but others have to do with consistency in the book that I found lacking at this point. Other readers will enjoy that part much more than I did.


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