As She Climbed Across the Table
by Jonathan Lethem
Review by James Walton

I'm not sure why this book is promoted as Science Fiction. It has a thin, pseudo-Science Fiction veneer, but it is clearly a fantasy. Or maybe I should say "fancy."

Lethem fancies himself to be Lewis Carroll, retelling the tale of Alice crawling through the looking glass and what she saw there.

The Alice in this case is Alice Coombs, a research physicist who, along with her bizarre colleagues, create a "pocket universe" and try to shape it in their own image. Of course the experiment doesn't work as planned. The hole into the other universe, (which they call the Lack because it has no characteristics they can measure or understand) pretty much ignores the scientists. The Lack becomes Alice's obsession and ruins her life.

Alice's lover, Philip Engstrand, of course is upset with Alice's behavior. How can he compete with something that isn't there? Engstrand spends most of the book on a quest to win back Alice's affections while at the same time learning much about himself. On his journey he meets Lethem's versions of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (a pair of blind homosexuals who already live in a universe of their own), the Red Queen (a lady therapist who falls in love with him for no apparent reason), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter. Lethem was successful in blending these characters so I won't make individual assignments for the last three.

As mentioned above, the science in Climbed is thin at best. Lethem has his characters mouth metaphysical technobabble in an attempt to make themselves feel better about their failure to understand Lack.

I just looked at the cover of Climbed and nowhere do the words Science Fiction or Fantasy appear. I guess Doubleday is trying for a wider audience.

The book is enjoyable but much too short. At 212 pages, I found As She Climbed Across the Table to be very skimpy for the $22.95 price tag. I read it pretty much in one sitting and started another book.

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