Or why you should read As She Climbed Across The Table
by Jonathan Lethem
In my day job I'm doing a PhD in Cardiac Cell Biology in an academic research lab. I spend my days devising ways to figure out how things work in biological systems that are endlessly complex and completely indifferent to my efforts. Science is inscrutable, with every discover creating more questions in this endless singularity of searching. Research is brutal, filled with mistakes and failed experiments. It's the kind of career that rewards obsession and can absorb you completely if you aren't careful. And so managing a healthy work life balance, making sure I spend enough time working on my relationships is a central challenge of my adult life.
So when I read As She Climbed Across The Table it cut me like a knife.
As She Climbed Across The Table tells a story of academic obsession and unrequited love. In the novel Philip Engstrand, an anthropologist who studies other researchers, is madly in love with Dr. Alice Coombs, a partical physicist. When an experiment meant to create a new universe goes awry and stabilizes as a mass-less, energy-less point of absorption, Alice becomes obsessed. This hungry absence, this Lack, is more than just a physical phenomenon and begins to display preference in what it consumes. Lack will absorb some things but not others, and Alice finds this fact irresistible. Philip begins to suspect that Alice is in love with the Lack and that he is losing her to this point of nothingness. But Philip is in love, and so he will do whatever it takes to win her back.
So you can see why this novel guts me. Its portrayal of research as an act of unrequited love bestowed on an unfeeling nothingness at the expense of human relationships is biting. The novel's depiction of loving an obsessed Scientist as being a jilted lover chasing another kind of absence is a cautionary tale. And the exploration of unrequited love as an obsession with an unfeeling absence that you want to pour yourself into completely is beautifully, uncomfortably spot on. As She Climbed Across The Table is just spectacularly engrossing.
I would recommend this book to virtually any reader. I'm not sure this novel will resonate with everyone at the same frequency, since a lot of what cut me so deeply was so particular to my experience. But being crushed by unrequited love is a pretty universal experience, right? And that aspect of this novel alone is beautiful and scary and a little funny and should capture any reader. So if you are a Scientist with a loved one or someone who has had their affections ignored, than As She Climbed Across The Table is a book you should read.
Post by Michael Bround
Gun, With Occasional Music