As She Climbed Across the Table
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As She Climbed Across the Table

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  3,426 ratings  ·  322 reviews
What if your lover left you for, well, nothing? Literally nothing. Particle physicist Alice Coombs and her colleagues are on the cusp of an extraordinary discovery. They have created a void, a hole in the universe, a true nothingness that they have named "Lack." Philip Engstrand, a professor who studies other professors, has made a breakthrough of his own - he now understa...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 17th 1997 by DoubleDay (first published January 1st 1997)
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Ian Paganus
Nov 16, 2013 Ian Paganus rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Metaphysicists; Lovers of pomo sans purple prose
Virtual Reality with a Philosophical Bent

This is a re-read of one of my favourite novels. I’ve rated it five stars both times, but the rating assumes that you have a philosophical bent. If you don’t, it might come across as hopelessly abstract and removed from any reality that you know.

If you do have, it might strike you as a stimulating and amusing work of post-modern fiction.

It’s an homage to and pastiche of novels by Lethem’s immediate predecessors such as John Barth’s "The End of the Road" a...more
There was a ten- or twenty-year period when literary fiction writers started to pay a lot of attention to science writing: Stoppard read Gleick's Chaos and wrote Arcadia; Richard Powers boned up on his Turing and wrote Galatea 2.2; and so on. This was well after the seventy-five-year drought that was modernism. (You can search Eliot's writing for days, trying in vain to find a single reference to the scientific upheavals of his time that isn't derisive, mystical, or silly.)

The problem is, there...more
MJ Nicholls
Very clever central conceit – a man loses his lover to a black hole of nothingness – executed stylishly. Lethem has enough tricks up his sleeve to maintain the tongue-in-cheek blend of love story and scientific wankery.

We could have done without the academic frat party scene (a professor of literature taking her shirt off? Really?) and some of the Lethemisms sprinkled hither and yon, but on the whole, the cleverness swoops in and saves the day. Nice work, J.
Sep 29, 2010 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: black holes
Recommended to Mariel by: the abyss
My twin loathed As She Climbed Across The Table. We discussed her reasons why years ago and I can't recall how she put it (better than my swiss cheese in a rat trap memory ever could, no doubt. Y'know, there's holes. I miss the basics. Yeah, I suck at analogies). I'd ask her, but she hates Lethem, and gets mad whenever I try and get her to read Girl in Landscape.

I liked it because ultimately I understood that it was a nobody is getting what they need/want love relationship. Lethem got it and I f...more
I like this bit: "Talk was hopeless. We smiled apologetically, while our words went spilling like platefuls of barbecue sauce onto a white dress in a detergent ad, comical slow-motion disaster."

This book is entertaining. I am entertained.

But, seriously, dialogue tags. My kingdom for some dialogue tags. Just the occasional "Alice said" so I know who's speaking, especially if there are more than two people in the scene, e.g., the barbershop in Chapter 6.

Like Alice, I may be in love with Lack, in l...more
This was a thoroughly good novel. As irritated as pseudoscience usually makes me, Lethem did a good job of not taking it seriously enough for me to want to strangle him. Plus some of it was kind of cool - the idea of using nerve-blind people as a unique kind of observer, for example. I wish the book had broken my heart more, but I suppose it's meant to be more funny than heartbreaking.
Recommended for English major types only.

This is a "literary" novel that borrows from science fiction, rather than the other way around. (You get sentences like, "the lack was obviously an explosion of metaphor into a literal world," and, "We want to treat Lack as a self-contained text. A sign. We want to read him …") Which isn't a criticism or a particular selling point (I love both), more of warning: you have to read it according to the right genre conventions or you'll probably come out hatin...more
May 29, 2008 Crystal rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of satire or psuedoscience
Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across the Table is two books in one: a parable about love and obsession, and a sharp satire of academia. It is narrated by Phillip Engstrand, a sociology professor who talks entirely too much. Phillip tells us the story of Lack, a hole in the universe opened by an accident of physics, and of the various academics who find themselves drawn in by it (pun probably intended).

Phillip's lover, Alice, is one such academic. She is a particle physicist who is entranced b...more
David Rim
I'm not one of those people who read every book by my favorite authors, although I probably should. Having loved both 'Motherless Brooklyn' and 'Fortress of Solitude' (and I seriously mean loved), I really couldn't resist this post-modern love story with Lethem's attendant literary trickery.

The story is a bizarre love triangle, with the twist that the third side is represented by a curious cosmological entity named only "Lack." Tongue in cheek existential feminism, anyone?

There is so much going...more
for better (and of course, definitely worse) I was in New York City around the turn of the millenium. one of the appeals of city life is the illusion it gives of "centrality." certain Manhattan movie theatres have day-before national release distribution of motion pictures (I saw Sophia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION a day before Michigan and Arizona); every once in a grand while a internationally-renowned celebrity walks non-chalantly past you on the sidewalk; author readings; Central Park and B...more
Nate D
Sep 11, 2008 Nate D rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lethem completists
Shelves: sci-fi, read-in-2008
A quick two-day break from Ulysses because I didn't want to lug it around by bike last Monday, and was way too underslept for Joyce today.

As She Climbed Across the Table is the most and least science-ish of the early quartet of Lethem science fiction novels before he redefined himself with Motherless Brooklyn. Most in that the plot derives from a university physics experiment, and least in that beyond being the catalyst, the science is pretty thin. Either way, it rarely feels like genre fiction...more
Ésta es hasta el momento mi novela del año.

Me llegó como un regalo absolutamente inesperado luego de años buscándola. Una novela corta o un cuento largo. Las primeras páginas son casi incomprensibles, incluso para aquellos clavados en gatos de Schrödinger y teorías de universos paralelos. Luego entiendes el movimiento de Lethem para convertir la historia de Alice es una historia que va entre una fábula sci-fi y una parábola geek, sobre el amor, la necesidad y sentido del afecto, sobre el reflejo...more
Lethem uses physics as a literary device without it turning into a gimmick, and his science enlightens the story rather than unnecessarily complicating it. Phillip and Alice seem unwholesome as a couple, but the dynamic of the two blind characters, which also seems destructive at first, eventually mirrors their relationship and confronts the issues of need, trust, self-loathing, insecurity, isolation, and communication.

This book also has a momentum which carried me through without ever tripping...more
This book has everything I usually love. Literary fiction. Weird metaphoric writing. Symbolism. Unrequited love. Physics. And yet...

I hated it. I hated every page, every character, every piece of dialogue. I hated how every line was an unsubtle metaphor, I hated how I couldn't tell if the lack of subtlety was intentional or not. Everyone kept saying things that sounded deep at first pass, but didn't mean anything, just paragraphs of literary nonsense and fake physics. I can tell it's supposed to...more
Dave Logghe
really well written and incredibly original. Even the narrative style was experimental at times which I liked. The ending was not quite satisfying, I enjoy being left with a question but this time it was slightly frustrating. I actually bought this book on accident, I meant to add it to my wishlist but it was a happy accident.
awesome. academia novel, with strange post-human elements and an anti-critical tone. and a void called Lack that is at one point likened to a vagina, and a gynecologist who calls himself a vagina ecologist.
I have a bit of a crush on Lethem's brain. He makes a love story out of a self-deprecating academic in love with a physicist, with a null space (known as "The Lack") as a rival of her affections.

The Lack has tastes of its own despite its nothingness - it likes pomegranate, and light bulbs, but it doesn't want Alice. Philip wants Alice but she is lost to him.

As an interdisciplinary study, he sets out to understand The Lack himself and goes a little obsessive as well.

Lethem has always had a wonde...more
At times this book amused me, and at times it annoyed me. I think it is a book best read in the years right after its publication, because it feels now, a dozen years on, to be too caught up in a trend that may have overstayed its welcome: the literary exploration of the scientific. Unlike more conventional science-fiction that might take on a bit of the far-out or futuristic in its exploration of themes, this is a story that is about the story of physics and the physics of story. It is wrapped...more
Eric Rasmussen
This was a fun little book, especially after all of the 500-plus page monsters I've been reading lately. I picked it up because the idea of a science-based novel appealed to me, but that's not really what this is - it's more of a parody of university life, played out through the main character's love of a colleague, and of all the other university-types that populate the book. It's quite funny, interspersed with some pretty thought-provoking philosophy and discussion of love and possession. And...more
This is the first of Lethem’s novels that can be accurately described as one, rather than a stretched out short story or a crudely pasted together amalgamation of short stories. As She Climbed Across The Table concerns a love-lorn anthropologist, Phillip, whose physicist girlfriend Alice has become obsessed with a wormhole dubbed “Lack” which has been created in her physics department at a California university. Lack is notable for making certain random objects disappear, while others pass right...more
Lethem's writing feels like a memoir, which is great, in some ways, except for the fact that his protagonist is dealing with something totally impossible. The narrative, to me, seems more like an experiment of Lethem than an honest effort at telling a story, but what I got out of it was more thought-provoking than other novels I've read.

Any number of theories could support the genesis of this novel. I mean, there must be reasons for the -almost- exclusively professorial and academic lives of his...more
An attempt to create a tangent universe goes wrong and The Lack is born. Narrator's girlfriend falls in love with it, the absence, which absorbs certain objects but rejects others, including her. In the wake of his abandonment the narrator struggles with his own "lack," attempts to undermine the science department. Lethem's first couple of books are heavily influenced by Philip Dick's works, and in my opinion a lot more fun than his recent stuff. This book is funny and dorky with a couple of int...more
Possibly one of the strangest tales of lost love I've ever read. The protagonist's physicist girlfriend leaves him for the fruits of one of her experiments: nothing. (Literally.)

For as quirky as the story was, I was grateful for the lack (see what I did there?) of gimmicks in the writing itself, which was refreshingly straightforward. I look forward to reading some of Lethem's others works.
I lack (ah har har) the words to describe how fantastic this is.

The plot of a possibly intelligent empty space is interesting enough. The fabulous wordplay and writing is delightful. But best of all, it is a sweet, adorable story of a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a spacial anomoly.
Gina Boyd
I would've given this four stars, but I'm holding against it the fact this this book isn't Motherless Brooklyn, nor is this book's Philip that book's Lionel. I know it's not fair, but that's just how it's going to have to be.

Lethem is a strong, evocative writer, who offers the added bonuses of not taking himself too seriously and being very, very funny. I'm afraid, though, that this book might take its irreverence a little far, because I think it's mocking two things/genres at once, so I can't...more
Anda Manteufel
Whoa. The premise of this book, in short, comes from one line in the middle: People talk about things that aren't there. And they never talk about what's in their hands.
If you think of it as a book about physics, you will probably be annoyed. If you think of it as a novel of language, psychology and love, you may find it more enjoyable.
NOTE: Combined review for “As She Climbed Across the Table” and “Girl in Landscape.” Separate books that echo each other.

The similarity of the structures are shocking … keep the same blueprint, just change the façade. Maybe that’s Lethem’s style. Okay fine, but I don’t like it.

Basically, both novels consist of poor writing and washed-out characters. Each protagonist mopes around, makes obscure observations, and acts the outsider. By the time any actual substance appears, it’s already too late. I...more
Daniel Burton-Rose
Vonnegut meets Latour for meta self-effacing comedy.
Read this so I can talk with you about it!
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t...more
More about Jonathan Lethem...
Motherless Brooklyn The Fortress of Solitude Gun, With Occasional Music Chronic City You Don't Love Me Yet

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“My heart, to put it more simply, got nostalgic for the present. Always a bad sign.” 12 likes
“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.” 9 likes
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