As She Climbed Across the Table

Jonathan Lethem, Author Doubleday Books $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-48517-3
A poser of warped, philosophical conundrums whose witty, genre-bending novels are set in dysfunctional worlds of the present and near-future, Lethem (Gun, with Occasional Music) situates his fourth novel on the fictional campus of a Northern California university where a physicist, known as Professor Soft, has accidentally opened a hole in space, a portal to an alternate universe. Lethem's narrator is Philip Engstrand, a professor of anthropology studying ""academic environments,"" who is the jealous boyfriend of Alice Coombs, a professor in Soft's lab at work on the physics of ""tiny nothingness."" Soft's vacuum, nicknamed Lack, is a gaping void that swallows some items into its universe-from an argyle sock to a grizzled lab cat-but ignores others. It soon becomes a campus sensation and Alice its most ardent enthusiast, but as Alice becomes increasingly obsessed with Lack, she retreats from Philip, who struggles mightily to reclaim her. Lethem's characters aren't emotionally complex: they aren't so much people as mobile talking units tumbling down a rabbit hole of sense and meaning while trying to sort out their personal lives. Yet it's hard not to get caught up in Philip's efforts to rescue Alice from Lack, or be unsettled by what happens in the novel's closing chapter, when he ventures too close to the brink. Lethem's reflections on being and nothingness are tempered throughout with a genuine silliness that helps make this one of the most engaging academic spoofs to emerge in the wake of Don DeLillo and David Lodge. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1997
Release date: 02/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 141 pages - 978-0-307-79149-8
Downloadable Audio - 1 pages - 978-1-4159-4170-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-4159-4169-0
Paperback - 978-0-679-78491-3
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-375-70012-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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