I was a little intimidated by this book at first, partly because of its length and because I didn't know anything about it or its author at all, but especially because I worried about the comparisons that had been drawn between it and the main authors of American postmodernism, an area of literature which is now very trendy but on which I am very ignorant - a gap which, it is becoming more and more apparent, I will have to fill soon if I want to have any relevant literary conversations these days, it would seem.
Unable as I am to say anything meaningful about the comparisons with Foster Wallace, Pynchon and Gaddis which I have read, I have been struck by the range and span of this proliferating novel, and at the same time by its great readability. Compared to some types of postmodernist literature, especially European, where the 'proliferation' applies to a structure made of multiple plots and plots within plots, here the main plotline is remarkably straightforward for a book of this length, revolving around the protagonist, Casi, a New York lawyer of Colombian origins, and the cases he has been assigned. The proliferation here rather refers to the continuous debates between characters about the most diverse subjects, from very intellectual discussions about morality and virtue, to much more down-to-earth dissections of the dynamics of dating, and everything in-between.
The main topic of the novel is quite obviously justice and the law - the reader is introduced to the mechanisms and procedures of NY's legal system, and what becomes most apparent is the subjectivity of it all. The novel touches on huge topics such as how easy it is for less privileged members of society to be involved in the hopeless spyral of crime and legal prosecution, and society's responsibility in this; and the extreme volatility of judgement on these matters, where the role of the judge and the jury's attitude, the ability of the attorney, the biases of the people involved tend to have a massive impact on the outcome.
But besides this overall theme there is also Casi's personal search for meaning and purpose to a life he can't feel happy with, his cynical yet sympathetic and extremely moral outlook on life, his attempt to do the best for his very underprivileged clients - and how all this turns into quite the opposite, in one of the novel's characteristic ironic distortions.
Everything about this novel is exaggerated and distorted in an unrealistic way, which, however, aims at magnifying and highlighting real problems; the characters are clever, extreme and radical, the plot takes some very outlandish turns and the conversations do not resemble any real conversations you would ever hear anywhere; but this is obvious and understood from the beginning and is clearly intended to expose mechanisms and dynamics that the author wants to draw the readers' attention to.
And all this in a novel that is just so incredibly entertaining, witty, hilarious and compelling, that it's almost too good to be true....Continua