If there’s one thing hilarious jokes have taught me, it’s that chickens will use any number of ridiculous excuses to cross a road. The second thing they’ve taught me is that lawyers are dangerous cads always on the lookout for ways to further their self-interest and stick gum under your door handles. Occasionally books contradict some previously held wisdom, like that clowns aren’t ancient monsters in disguise or that a child can’t survive in the wilderness with only a hatchet. Sergio de la Pava’s “A Naked Singularity” managed the immense task of convincing me that not all jokes are absolute unbendable truths, that some lawyers might be not only good people that don’t constantly walk into bars but also in fact downright heroic, and that there is only one right way to make empanadas.
Sergio de la Pava is, in addition to being a writer that wins awards and is worthy of the sort of praise that leaves vocal chords frayed and blogging fingers exhausted, a lawyer, and not the sort to dispose of his gum improperly. His narrator, Casi, is a brilliant and devoted public defender. He takes an out-of-state case pro bono so that he can save a man with the mind of a child from death row. He loves his family, including a young niece that refuses to speak and a young nephew constantly peppering him with typical childish questions like, “What happens to the homeless when they die?” He’s the sort of gentleman who insists on committing a heist with swords instead of guns. He’s an expert on the history of boxing and manages to make it interesting even to a gentleman like me who prefers to settle disagreements with handshakes and dove races.
When people write about “A Naked Singularity,” they, in addition to praising the tar out of it, tell of its journey from repeatedly rejected manuscript to self-published anonymity to something a few people are praising the tar out of to being published by a prestigious publisher, but, given space constraints, I’m not even going to mention that.
A gentleman is generous, so I understand there may be those that get to caterwauling about the recommendation of a writer with only one novel. First, in just a couple of months the library will have his second novel, “Personae.” Won’t you join me on the waiting list? Two, this isn’t your regular “one novel.” It’s nearly 700 dense and hilarious pages. There’s some legal thriller stuff, some straight up thriller stuff, and there’s a neighbor immersing himself in constant “The Honeymooners” reruns in an experiment he hopes will turn one of its characters into a real person. Perhaps my favorite chapter, Chapter 10, manages to weave a series of digressions around a clockwork that tumbles them back into each other until by the end you finally find out what happened with the angry monkey.
This is the sort of novel that dominates you while you read it and doesn’t disappear when you’re done. This is a novel readers will talk about until society crumbles and books are nothing but what the more hygienic mutants use for toilet paper. This is a Great American Novel.