Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Naked Singularity

For nearly a year now, I've carefully avoided mentioning on this blog one of the best novels I read last year--one of the best novels I've read in a good while--Sergio De La Pava's A Naked Singularity. I read it over Christmas last year, and for nearly a week this 700-page debut novel had me completely captivated, laughing and worrying and being surprised and amazed. Ordinarily, I would have been quoting from it here--like I quoted from it relentlessly to rocketlass as I read--and praising it to the rooftops. But I didn't.

I had my reasons. Or, really, reason: A Naked Singularity was self-published, and I wanted to convince my employer, the University of Chicago Press, to publish it. In May, we will, and I couldn't be more excited.

The whole thing started with a review by Scott Bryan Wilson in the Quarterly Conversation (for which I serve as poetry editor). As editor Scott Esposito pointed out in a note accompanying the review, "This book review tends closer to an endorsement than we would usually publish." It was a rave. Scott called A Naked Singularity, ""One of the best and most original novels of the decade," and he went on from there:
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.
I knew Scott's taste well enough to trust his opinion . . . but still--a 700-page self-published debut novel? That's a commitment I wasn't quite ready to make. So I set a Google alert for the book, to see whether other people might share Scott's enthusiasm. And they did. Lian Hearn, author of the Tales of the Otori series, wrote a long post on her Facebook page titled "A Naked Singularity: Why I Love This Book." Dan Visel at With Hidden Noise wrote, "This is a book that deserves to be read more widely; in a better world, people would be reading this rather than Freedom." Others followed, with similar praise.

So I got a copy, and they were right: it's a wonderful novel. It's linguistically inventive and simmering with anger at social and legal injustice, all told in the unforgettable voice of the protagonist, Casi, a wunderkind public defender in Manhattan who's never lost a case. It's as funny and smart as anything I've read since Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai, and it ranges widely in its concerns, scenes, and style: it offers courtroom drama, media satire, a ridiculously long scat joke, snappy dialogue, immigrant stories, boxing commentary, and even a heist worthy of Richard Stark. It's indebted to Melville and Dante, kin to David Foster Wallace and William Gaddis, and still not quite like anything else I've ever read.

And now I'm going to get a chance to introduce it to the book world at large. You can read more about A Naked Singularity, including the copy I wrote to describe it, at the Press's website. You should be able to pre-order it at your local bookstore or from Amazon.

As I've explained before, I try not to let my work and nonwork lives intersect on this blog any more than absolutely necessary. I won't ever write here about a book that I wouldn't have written about had I come to it through other means. This is a case where the two worlds overlap completely--and where, in the midst of the constant litany of bad news about the death of publishing, the loss of community, the end of reading, and whatever other gleefully masochistic bad cultural news is currently clogging your Google Reader, this is a story where it all actually worked. A writer wrote a singular book that stayed true to his vision, and, because it was good enough to draw the attention of some seriously dedicated readers, it's now getting another shot.

So trust me on this one. Order up a copy and clear your reading decks in late April/early May. Until then, if you want a taste of De La Pava's intense, energetic prose, check out this piece he wrote for Triple Canopy on Virginia Woolf and two brutal boxing matches.


  1. Nice post, good argument, and I too have read Naked Singularity, and I too couldn't recommend it more highly. I think it's a sign of the character of the publisher, that they would pick this big boy up and attempt to breath wind into it's sail. Blow winds blow, keep your hand on the rudder, and happy sailing!

  2. I first heard about the book when Scot wrote about it. It's been on my wishlist ever since. This is such a good story. I thank you, Scott and all those who championed the book. I'm looking forward to reading it. Just have to figure out how to get it to Africa. Well done.

  3. Kinna,
    We have distribution worldwide at Chicago, but I know Africa can be a bit tough sometimes. If, come the summer, you can't figure out how to get it to Africa, leave a comment here and I'll find a way. It's a great book.

  4. Mr. Stahl, thanks for posting on this book. I stumbled across it in a used bookstore and, not able to wait until the new release, have started reading it. I hope to finish it and post on it around the new release date since I'm really enjoying it. Thanks again!