PRINT December 2013

Books: Best of 2013

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Novels were the first television shows, and Sergio De La Pava doesn’t forget it. This past summer, I read all 690 pages of A Naked Singularity (University of Chicago Press, 2012) in two days, the way that tens of thousands of Americans watched a whole season of Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. The suspense was episodic; the characters not “flawed” but jagged, uneasily memorable; the throughline a high-wire moralism plus boxing allegory that makes this putative Crime and Punishment update feel more like David Foster Wallace off drugs. Not once did I begrudge my commitment. I regretted only that I hadn’t been on Mr. De La Pava’s press list in 2008 when the author—who, like his protagonist, Casi, is a public defender at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan—self-published his phantasmagorical, unpindownable, and widely rejected debut.

That it took five years for the best contemporary work of New York–based fiction written in those same five years to be commercially published and distributed, and then recommended to me, is proof positively infuriating that not only is my world too small but that the literary scene knows not shit. “Literary” is a genre. MFA writing should have its own table in a corner at Barnes & Noble. A Naked Singularity, however, is crime fiction mixed with speculative ethicism and Eliot-level poetic realness, and when it gets weird it’s weird, not “experimental.” (No spoilers, but for me the crux is when New York’s electricity goes out, and the grid loses its grip to slippery, forking paths.) I read it when it felt like every Brooklyn writer I knew was talking about the same new Brooklyn novels, written by Brooklyn writers about the struggles of being writers in Brooklyn, and I wanted to plant bombs in Park Slope. Instead, this is a read for a bigger world. A fresher hell. De La Pava’s immersive conviction and radical, street-view engagement with America’s scarcity of justice have saved Park Slope—for now—and made me re-believe in the novel’s aim: first to entertain, then to school us.

Sarah Nicole Prickett is the editor of Adult magazine and a writer based in New York.