Wednesday, June 06, 2007

[Book Review] THE INTUITIONIST by Colson Whitehead


Laura Bonds reviews THE INTUITIONIST by Colson Whitehead (Anchor Books, 1999)

Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist is a genre-bending work that will appeal to a wide cross-section of readers. Rooted in speculative fiction, the novel successfully blends seemingly opposite elements of futuristic engineering along with 19th century political machinations. At the same time, the story is by turns comical, noir, and philosophical, all without losing direction or purpose.

Lila Mae Watson is the first black female elevator inspector in a city defined by its verticality. In his exploration of Lila Mae’s personal predicament within a larger political struggle, Whitehead addresses the issues of racism, classism, and sexism both subtly and poignantly, compelling the reader to become invested in the journey of his character through to its ultimate resolution.

The book is set in an unnamed metropolis closely resembling New York City. Elevation, both architectural and social, embodies the central idea of upward mobility in this metropolis, and Lila Mae finds herself in the middle of controversy as a new face in an established hierarchy. It is an election year for the Elevator Guild, an influential organization divided into two ideological factions: the Empiricists, who rely on logic and thorough, detailed inspection to assess elevator safety, and the relatively new Intuitionists (of whom Lila Mae is a member), who simply “know” if something is wrong once they step in an elevator. When the Number Eleven elevator in a newly completed building goes into a deadly freefall just after Lila Mae signs off on it, it is assumed that the accident was sabotaged, and Lila Mae was set up to take the fall. In her attempt to clear her name, Lila Mae embarks on a journey that leads deep into a world of mystery and conspiracy, as well as sociological and political intrigue.

Laura Bonds, Circulation Department

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