Tuesday, January 4, 2011

As She Climbed Across the Table

The premise of Jonathan Lethem's 1997 novel As She Climbed Across the Table is pretty interesting, in an uber-dorky, science-geek kind of a way.  Alice Coombs and her fellow physicists at the fictional Beauchamp University create a space/time anomaly.  It's a complete nothingness in itself, though it may be the portal to an alternate universe (or universes).  This Lack begins to display signs of being, signs that it perhaps has a achieved a level of consciousness, even an intelligence.  He absorbs a pomegranate, ball bearings, a domesticated cat named B-84; he rejects a bow tie, a lens cap, chocolate cake.  And Lack rejects Alice, who has fallen in love with him.

Phillip Engstrand, Alice's live-in boyfriend until Lack's creation, is a fellow professor at Beauchamp.  The novel follows his comical coming-to-terms with Alice's new obsession.  He's been displaced by a nothing, he does not understand why, and he is determined to get Alice back.  Minor characters (the blind men Evan and Garth, other physicists at the university, the beautiful therapist Cynthia Jalter) are well rounded and generally amusing.  But nothing in the plot is compelling enough for me to feel anything but disappointed in this book.  It's OK, but not great.  Letham has written great books; read Girl in Landscape or Motherless Brooklyn instead.

Next up: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood


A.V. Kennedy said...

yeah, another book post. You keep me reading w/ so many good suggestions (and save me some time by avoiding some duds too :)

Angie said...

Oh good - let's get Lynne back on the book club train... it's been way too long!! Happy 2011 to you!