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As She Climbed Across the Table: A Novel Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 24, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700125
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Particle physics, false vacuum bubbles, an alternate universe--this is the stuff of Jonathan Lethem's novel As She Climbed Across the Table. The tale echoes Alice in Wonderland in its mad tumble through a rearranged reality. Narrator Phillip Engstrand is a university professor who has made a career out of studying academic environments. Engstrand is in love with Alice Coombs, a particle physicist engaged in a bold attempt to replicate the origins of the universe. The result of the experiment is Lack, a very selective black hole that sucks some things into its void--a cat, a pair of socks, a strawberry--and rejects others, namely, a love-struck Alice. As Alice's unrequited obsession with Lack grows, Phillip becomes so desperate to save his beloved from this empty rival that he risks a journey down the metaphysical rabbit hole.

Here the language of physics becomes the language of love: describing physics' "observer problem," Alice says, "Some people think the observer's consciousness determines the spin or even the existence of the electron." Later, as he stumbles to explain Alice's importance to him, Phillip tells her, "I'm not sure I really exist except under your observation." In this memorable little book, Lethem explores the cosmic possibilities of love. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In this witty but telling new work from the author of The Wall of Sky, the Wall of Eye (LJ 8/96), our hapless narrator has completed his dissertation on "Theory as Neurosis in the Professional Scientist" and landed a job at the University of North California at Beauchamp (pronouced beach 'em), where he studies academic envirorments, producing "strong but irrelevant work" and falling for physics professor Alice. But Alice is too caught up in Professor Soft's notorious experiment with a vacuum intelligence called Lack to pay her lover much heed, and soon Lack is the real love of her life. This is not your typically insular campus comedy; Lethem has something bigger in mind, and he succeeds admirably in skewering our pretensions, technological or not, in language that gently mocks the way we hide behind jargon. An ironical book that is, ironically, quite poignant; for public and academic libraries.?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College.

He 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.

Customer Reviews

Every character in the book was flat and incredibly unbelievable.
Jacob P. Greene
I think the book was always this good, but I hadn't had the right experiences in life yet to understand it.
N. M. Deniro
His characterizations are right on the mark in my opinion and very very funny.
Zentao

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on January 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have all of Jonathan Lethem's novels, I bought them several years ago with the intent of eventually getting to them. Well eventually has become "now" and this is my first exposure to his work and I have to say . . . it's certainly original. The premise here is that Philip, a professor, is dating a physics professor named Alice. Her department manages to conjure up a type of black hole that tends to be a bit selective in what it wants to devour. Alice sees this as a sign of intelligence and begins to fall in love with it, leaving poor Philip behind. What transpires at that point is the epitome of a bizarre love triangle, with Philip trying to win back Alice even as she tries to get the black hole (now named "Lack") to love her in return. To Lethem's credit he makes this odd premise actually work within the context of the story, so that the characters come across as people and not complete lunatics. Sometimes they don't come off as real people, just strings of dialogue bouncing back and forth, but it feels real enough that I can buy it. Even the two blind guys who show up and start to live in his apartment don't really feel out of place. To my mind, there were two ways Lethem could have screwed this up, one by making the whole scenario just too cute to believe, or by going the other route and drowning us all in dry physics discussions, overstraining itself trying to make the point. Thankfully, he strides a nice middle ground, acknowledging that the situation is absurd without making fun of the characters and using quantum physics in a way that it he can comment on relationships between people and show how there really isn't any difference at all. The end gets a bit weird but there was probably no other way to end it.Read more ›
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Maxwell Crowe on February 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
I read an interview once where Lethem suggested that with "Girl in Landscape" he started writing "true" novels, and that in his work before he felt his characters weren't quite real-- just devices controlled by some overarching clever design. This may be too harsh a criticism, perhaps, (and mind you, those are Lethem's words not mine) but it does seem especially true of this novel.
"As She Climbed Across the Table" is a very clever book. And it's also a novel of ideas, as well as a parody of "the college novel". It's funny occasionally, and it will make you think. But it is not especially true. I'm not speaking of the science fiction elements of the plot here, I'm talking about the characters and their relationships. They're flat. And they're slaves to Lethem's clever design.
At three stars, this book is worth reading, especially if you're a fan of Lethem. But if you've just heard of the author and you're looking something to be your first read, I'd start elsewhere-- "Girl in Landscape" or "Motherless Brookyn". If you've got a hankering for a good college novel, I'd try something else as well-- perhaps Francine Prose's "Blue Angel" or (if you didn't have to read it in college) Kingley Amis' "Lucky Jim".
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
It wasn't awful; it had it's good points: some striking metaphors, a couple of really fresh and interesting characters. But overall, it was shallow and full of holes.
The "physics" were mythical to say the least -- but not whimsical enough to be jarryesque. The semiotics were downright dumb. The psychology was glib. And the characters were mostly flat and as dull as a good deal of the prose.
Oh well. There were the two blind co-dependants who captured the heart and the imagination and who would have made a good book in themselves. And, like I said, Lethem does show off a talent for metaphor.
But that's the trouble with so much contemporary fiction: the authors show very specialized talent and no respect for their own higher sensibilities.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book the day it was released because I loved both of Lethem's earlier novels and his short stories, despite the fact that the subject matter of AS SHE CLIMBED ACROSS THE TABLE didn't pique my interest at all. However, Lethem's handling of the subject is brilliant, taking an extremely implausible scenario (boy loves girl, boy loses girl to literally Nothing...) and makes it beatifully, hilariously, painfully real. The characters are very well rounded and the dialog is witty and touching. Thinking back on it, I would have liked to have spent more time with Alice before Lack came into the picture, to get a feel for why Phillip cares about her so deeply, but that is a minor quibble. I loved how Lack himself becomes such a strong character, despite the fact that he is devoid of, well, everything. Lack touches everyone that comes into contact with him, changing them forever.

Easily the best novel I've read this year.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
Don't be fooled by suspiciously similar 1-star reviews! This is a very good book. Lethem collides the worlds of poststructuralist metaphysics and physics in a very entertaining and thought-provoking way, and manages to be quite funny in the process. I thought his style is a little derivative of Don DeLillo's (minimalist observations hinting at much deeper resonances beneath the mundane), but I didn't mind since the whole thing was so well done. Contrary to what an earlier reader said, Lethem clearly knows physics--and philosophy--quite well, and if you have any interest in either of those subjects, you should consider this book. It is short but very tasty.
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