Futuristic, gritty, odd, but well-written.
If I interpreted it correctly, this book was set in a sort of alternate universe based on our own 1940's or 50's. It was a time and place where race relations were touchy, sexual bias was rampant, and where elevator inspectors were regarded as the guardians of public safety and vanguard of technology. All of this might have lent itself to some interesting and innovative story possibilities, but none of them materialized.
In truth, I'm not exactly sure what the story was intended to be. On the surface it was a not very convincing mystery, peopled by dull and unconvincing stereotypes. There were also attempts at social commentary, metaphor, symbolism, and allegory, all of which made it seem like the author was trying too hard, to too little effect. The prose was the same, pages of self-consciously high-flown verbiage that was occasionally nicely crafted, but that mostly aimed to dazzle the reader without offering much substance.
Nowhere did I find evidence of the "sidesplitting humor" or "stunning depth" the book description promised. Offbeat and unusual, but disappointing; if this is post-modernism, I'll pass.
This book's greatest flaw is its complexity, both in subject and in style. Whitehead uses the backdrop of simple, pulp, boiled-down noir fiction to present a rather intricate metaphor on race, using elevators to demonstrate it. I found myself distracted by the metaphorwhat did he mean? In order to raise something (someone?), there had to be a counterweight involvedsomething (someone) must be forced down. What did he mean by Intuition vs. Empiricism? How on Earth would Intuition ever be accepted as a realistic way to inspect elevators? Wouldn't you actually have to look at them? What about the philosophical history of Empiricismshould I consider that at all? So distracted was I with solving this puzzle of a plot with all sorts of characters who weren't what they seemed that I couldn't enjoy the story. It's like being so set on figuring out a Rubik's Cube that you forget that it's supposed to be fun and end up returning it back to the box in the garage.
Then, also, Whitehead is crazy amazing with language and wrote so beautifully and elegantly that I again became distracted, trying to dissect his sentences. The way this man uses the English language astounds me. His observations so keen and seamless; they all gave me pause and slowed my reading down considerably.
The payoff comes at the very end for everyone confused or unsure of the metaphor; it all makes sense and you think, "Oh. I had it all along." I prefer Apex Hides the Hurt to this one, but this wasn't a bad read at all. Whitehead is a writer that will be mentioned in books far after we're gone. He's that good.
This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is so incredibly well written, it calmly and expertly pulls you into this bizarre alternate universe. Truly fascinating and unique.
I wanted to enjoy this book, all of the reviews I've read said I should, but after slogging through two discs and constantly having to back track because my mind had drifted away I'm calling it quits. It's about an elevator inspector, political ambitions, discrimination and it's also a mystery but the storytelling (and the audio narrator) are so dry and slow that I can't bear to listen to any more of it. I've got too many others in the queue to waste any more time struggling to get into this one.
"Magical...ranks alongside Catch-22, V, The Bluest Eye and other groundbreaking first novels...Whitehead shares Heller's sense of the absurd, Phynchon's operative expansiveness and Morrison's deconstruction of race and racism." SF Chronicle.
Two warring factions in the Dept of Elevator Inspectors in a bustling metropolis vie for dominance: The Empiricists, who go by the book and rigorously check every structural and mechanical detail, and the Intuitionists, whose observational methods involve meditation and instinct. Lila Mae Watson, the city's first black female inspector and a devout Intuitionist with the highest accuracy rate in the dept, is at the center of the turmoil. An elevator in a new municipal building has crashed on Lila Mae's watch, fanning the flames of the Empiricist-Intuitionist feud and compelling Lila Mae to go underground to investigate. As she endeavors to clear her name, she becomes entangled in a web of intrigue that leads her to a secret that will change her life forever.