AS SHE CLIMBED ACROSS THE TABLE by Jonathan Lethem, Book Review

As She Climbed Across The Table Synopsis:

As She Climbed Across The Table by Jonathan Lethem
As She Climbed Across The Table

What if your lover left you for nothing? Literally Nothing? From the author of Motherless Brooklyn, this is a strange, hilarious love story about a man, a woman, and the space between them.

Physicist Alice Coombs has made a great discovery – a hole in the universe, a true nothingness she and her colleagues call ‘Lack’. Professor Philip Engstrand has made his own breakthrough – he realises how much he loves Alice. Trouble is, Lack is a void with a personality – a void that utterly obsesses Philip’s beloved. She’s fallen out of love with Philip and in love with Lack.


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Jonathan Lethem’s 1997 novel As She Climbed Across The Table has been on my wish list for some time, but ultimately did not quite live up to my expectations.

The quandary for me was that many of the character behaviours lacked the rigid objectivity I would have expected of individuals in their nominated roles – the physicists in particular. That their uncharacteristically emotive behaviour was the intended source of humour, rather than the way a strictly scientific approach can clash with the everyday, was something I took a little while to acclimatise to. I’m not an expert in this field, but at times even the science felt satirised; parody science.

Described by Publishers Weekly as ‘one of the most engaging academic spoofs to emerge in the wake of Don DeLillo and David Lodge‘, I found those characters Lethem has taken to the extremities of co-dependency most successful.

Leading man Philip Engstrand, is an anthropology professor known as the ‘Dean of Interdiscipline’ that has built his career on studying relationships in academic environments, and in doing so only heightens the enigmatic nature of that which is his foci. Despite his expertise being the study of relationships, he finds himself woefully ill-equipped when the relationship of most importance to him, that with Alice, begins to flounder.

My inner chemistry had been hijacked by a mad scientist, who poured the fizzy, volatile contents of my heart from a test tube marked SOBER REALITY into another labeled SUNNY DELUSION, and back again, faster and faster, until the floor of my life was slick with spillage.

One cannot help but be amused by Philip’s panic stricken responses to the ever more farcical situations in which he finds himself, and his blind persistence in the face of abject failure oddly heartening.

I am relaxed. It’s just buried under layers of incredulity and panic. But underneath those I’m very relaxed.”

Jonathan Lethem’s As She Climbed Across The Table is the microcosm of academia stretched like a rubber band – an entertaining philosophical jaunt that’s far from scientific.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5  — Overall 3.5

Get your copy of As She Climbed Across the Table from:

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Genre: Literature, Mystery, Romance, Drama, Sci-Fi

About the Author, Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels including Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award, as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger. He has also written two short story collections, a novella and a collection of essays, edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year’s Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence magazine. His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney’s and many other periodicals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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