A Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity

Book - 2014
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Tells the story of Casi, a child of Colombian immigrants who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan as a public defender. Casi is a hotshot public defender working on the front line of America's War on Drugs. So far he's on the winning side. He's never lost a case. But nothing lasts forever, and pride like his has a long way to fall. Funny, smart and always surprising, A Naked Singularity speaks a language all of its own and reads like nothing else ever written. Casi's beautiful mind and planetary intelligence make him an inimitable and unforgettable narrator. In De La Pava's hands, the labyrinthine miseries of the New York Justice System are as layered and diabolical as Dante's nine circles of Hell. But the Devil doesn't hog the best lines. There are plenty here to go around.
Publisher: University of Chicago Press, , 2014
ISBN: 9780857052810
Branch Call Number: AF DELA

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DWIGHT A GREEN
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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