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As She Climbed Across the Table

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  4,881 ratings  ·  454 reviews
         Anna Karenina left her husband for a dashing officer. Lady Chatterley left hers for the gamekeeper. Now Alice Coombs has her boyfriend for nothing … nothing at all.  Just how that should have come to pass and what Philip Engstrand, Alice’s spurned boyfriend, can do about it is the premise for this vertiginous speculative romance by the acclaimed author of Gun, wit ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 24th 1998 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1997)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,881 ratings  ·  454 reviews

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Violet wells
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it

Lethem’s penchant is always for the dysfunctional, for characters who have at least one screw loose and this is no different. Here he chooses academia to dramatise his vision of our dysfunctional world. Probably no one will ever write a better and more hilarious spoof of academia than Pale Fire but As She Climbed Across the Table certainly has its moments.

It’s one of those novels that is almost entirely generated by one idea. The idea is what if a physics department created a portal into another un
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 Ba
Aug 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
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 isn't always all th
MJ Nicholls
Jun 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: merkins, novels
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.
Nov 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 felt I c
Mattia Ravasi
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Video Review

Follows in the tradition of the best science fiction to picture the way a ground-breaking discovery messes up the life of a likeably dysfunctional professor, and the microcosm of his campus. It made me afraid I'd laugh in public places. It moved me. The dialogue was so good it hurt. I feel like climbing up that table myself.
May 08, 2008 rated it liked it
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 entr
☼♎ Carmen the Bootyshaker Temptress ☼♎
I found this book a bit weird, crazy and funny at times. I was confused as to what the heck these people were thinking. I think they all need their heads examined. LOL
May 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel, loved-it, 2009
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 Ali
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 co
Jun 28, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Let's Geek
Oct 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: scifi
Read the full review on my Blog Let's Geek:

I probably am too dumb for this book. Heavy on philosophy and science.

Did you ever read a book, and once you put it down, you asked yourself: What the hell did I just read? That is what I thought when reading As She Climbed Across the Table.

Total Rating: 2.8/10

Originality: 5/10
Language: 2/10
Atmosphere: 2/10
Characters: 4/10
World building: 2/10
Fun: 2/10
Predictability: 2/10
Believable: 2/10/>
A (mercifully short) novella of pretentious nonsense centring around the male entitlement of the narrator, one Phillip Engstrand, who can't conceive of the notion that his ex-girlfriend Alice no longer wishes to be with him. A book filled to the brim with caricatures of academics, which I did enjoy, she is the only character of consequence who is a woman. The rest of the cast are a bunch of blokes who are sure that they know better than she does, who do everything they can to control her actions ...more
Feb 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Kate by: Joyce Lai
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
Nate D
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
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, and is more/>As
David Rim
Aug 01, 2008 rated it liked it
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 s
Briane Pagel
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
It occurred to me as I got ready to write this post that As She Climbed Across The Table and The Pretty Good Jim's Journal Treasury are actually flip sides of the same storytelling coin.

Both of them (wait, here's the clever bit) are about nothing, after all: As She Climbed is about a woman who falls in love with a black hole, while Jim's Journal is a comic strip about more or less nothing at all: the minutiae of Jim's life, literally: in many strips he talks about cooking a hot dog, or watching
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ficciones
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 ev
Dave Logghe
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
Such a great premise, but I feel the author utterly botched it. It has an "observer problem" in that, once you read the book, you find out it sucks.
The main character was so annoying it was very hard not to fling the book across the room. FYI - if you're an insecure, needy guy who blathers constantly to make up for his insecurity, it's not self-effacing to admit you're blathering to make up for your insecurity. It's annoying. Period.
And the ending? I won't "spoil it" for you because
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mr. Lethem's slim novel about unrequited love, a love triangle consisting of a professor couple, and literally nothing. Philip and Alice who love too much. Philip loves Alice but she loves Lack- which is a seductive nothingness. It's a beautiful meditation on love and the loyalties that keep people together filled with humor and a riff on science fiction love stories.
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clever, funny book.
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this wonderful and weird book. Fantastic dialogue, romance and mind-bending quantum mechanics.
Read this on a bit of a lark, to be honest, and I remember liking but not being especially wowed by both Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude. But this was a different beast entirely.

Well, let's start with what pissed me off before I can go into the good. First of all, it's more or less a science fiction novel, but it has a lot of the trappings of a (ugh) campus novel. Because that micro-genre hasn't been overstretched and done to death by countless white boys grasping fo

Brought to you by guest reviewer Erin

There’s a quote that reads something like this: “500 readers could all read the same book, and interpret it 500 different ways”. In psychology there is a phenomenon called Observer Bias: a researcher expects participants to act in a certain way, and during an experiment unconsciously influences their behavior; thus creating the result he expected in the first place. Similarly, a participant may act the way they believe they are expected t
Timons Esaias
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
I bought this when it first came out, and, yeah, it took me 18 years to get to it. Story of my life.

Lethem writes literary novels, really, but the first several were composed in science fiction guise. That puts him on my A list. And this volume is, indeed, science fictional. The premise is that a physics experiment in the labs of a university goes interestingly sideways, and instead of creating a whole new Universe, it creates an attached bubble that doesn't seem to do anything much.
Feb 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
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
Oct 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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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-win
“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.” 20 likes
“My heart, to put it more simply, got nostalgic for the present. Always a bad sign.” 19 likes
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