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Books, You Guys!

I read a lot of everything. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi, or speculative fiction or Slipstream or New Weird or whatever we're calling it now, some comics, some literary fiction, mysteries, la dee da. And...well. I do like a kissin' book.
As She Climbed Across the Table - Jonathan Lethem 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 by what she perceives as Lack's personality- that is, his preference for some objects over others, and his seeming rejection of her. As the story progresses her obsession becomes more pronounced and more painful, sending ripples of cause and effect through Phillip and the entire campus as our protagonist tries first to win her back, and then to simply understand.As She Climbed Across the Table was billed in most reviews I read as a satire, and it certainly is. At times, in fact, the satirical elements of the story seemed heavy-handed to me, as though Lethem was just wallowing around and being impressed by his own cleverness. And make no mistake- Lethem is definitely impressed with himself. His writing is showy almost to the point of being irritating, if you're the sort of person who's irritated by that kind of thing. He uses obscure words where perfectly common ones would have been more effective, and his characters occasionally turn into nothing more than mouthpieces for his witty dialogue. When he succeeds he is dazzling, as with some of his subtle reminders that academia always ends up eating itself, and there are enough of these successful moments to keep the reader going. His points are often brought home by the secondary characters, most of whom are more charming and interesting than the protagonist. I was always glad to see Evan and Garth, Lethem's blind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, make an appearance. I also saw the book billed as a comic novel, but I honestly didn't see it. There are lines and situations that made me chuckle, sure, but they didn't seem to live up to the "laugh out loud hilarious" reviews I'd read. If no one had told me I wouldn't have known that the book was supposed to be comic. Perhaps Lethem didn't know either.The second level of the novel, the part that gets lost, is a story of the people on campus and how they are affected by Lack's arrival. This is the story I thought I was going to be reading when I opened the book, and I ultimately ended up sad when it wasn't there. It covers all the bases- the selfish nature of being in love, obsession, self-image, etc.- but ultimately in what feels like a very shallow way. More than once I found myself wishing that the story was told from Alice's point of view or, honestly, from anyone but Phillip's. But, alas, the book was never supposed to be about this story. It's merely a vehicle for the satire.As She Climbed Across the Table reads very quickly, and for that reason alone I'm not sorry I read it. Had I invested more time, I probably would have been a lot more annoyed. Read it if you enjoy satire more than the average bear, or if you're looking for something quick to fill the space between other books. At the very least it managed to pique my interest in Lethem's other books, and I'm hoping that in his later works he manages to live up to the potential this one showed.