Sergio de la Pava: A Naked Singularity

A couple of months ago I got a random email saying (paraphrased) “Love your Infinite Jest notes, love your blog, can I send you a free copy of this novel that appeals to a lot of the people who like Infinite Jest?” I looked it up and saw that it was self-published, which is not a great sign, but a few pages on the net did praise it effusively, and I figured that there was no downside, so I said sure. I wasn’t planning to read it any time soon, but a few weeks ago I picked it up and read a few pages, and then read a few more, and then I read the whole book, and damned if it wasn’t really good.

The novel is A Naked Singularity, and it is a big mess, but luckily for de la Pava, I love big messes. Infinite Jest itself, Gravity’s Rainbow, Sandinista!, Zen Arcade — if it’s some gigantic work that overflows its banks and doesn’t know when to stop, chances are good that I’ll love it.  It’s a 700 page book, but we’re at about page 300 before the plot even really gets started; most of the beginning of the book is filled with a depiction of what it’s like to be a public defender, as the narrator is, in between a bunch of entertainingly digressive dialogues dealing with subjects ranging from abstruse philosophy to pop culture.

Actually, once the plot really gets started and the book gets more focused, it gets a little less interesting and more conventional, but it never stops being entertaining. Most readers would likely disagree, but I almost wish that the novel was even more of a big mess. It’s already 700 pages; why not add a couple hundred more and keep the second half of the book as crazy as the first?

Back to the good points about the book. As I said, the writing style itself is super entertaining. For example, even though about 5% of the the book is taken up by the narrator going on about the professional boxing scene of the 1980s, I didn’t mind. And learning about the life of a public defender was very educational, and naturally enraging as well. There were a bunch of interesting stylistic experiments (there’s one great chapter in particular that keeps jump-cutting back and forth between different scenes during one day) which I would have been happy to see de la Pava take even farther.

A Naked Singularity is self-published but it’s not that easy to tell; the physical book and its layout are very professional, and the only thing giving it away to me was a larger-than-usual incidence of typos. I’ve seen other reviewers wish that it had been edited down some, but as I said earlier, I kind of wish it had been edited even less. I don’t know how hard de la Pava looked for a publisher — it seems hard to believe that no one would have taken a chance on this being the breakout hit of the year. Hopefully his next book will find a wider audience. I’ll certainly read it.

P.S. I am required by the FTC to disclose (as I already did, but here it is again, explicitly) that I received this book for free.

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