Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: "The Intuitionist" by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is a very good writer, even if that sometimes gets in the way of the cool stories that he has the potential to tell with his books. He isn’t as bad as Ben Marcus is; whom I feel wastes story ideas in order to pepper up his prose, Whitehead has more of a handle on his keen ear for description, and his first novel, The Intuitionist, is proof of the potential he has to be a really great presence in the world of modern American fiction. His last novel Zone One, which I read a few years ago, showed the kinds of interesting ideas that Whitehead can bring into a genre of fiction that really needs more interesting ideas, even though that novel does not deal directly with themes of race in modern America. The Intuitionist, on the other hand, does so, but in one of the most interesting ways I have come across. Lila Mae Weston is the first black elevator inspector in an alternate dystopian timeline where elevators are the lifelines of metropolis cities such as New York. There are two kinds of elevator inspectors: the Empiricists, who go by the book and actually look and search for what is wrong in a damaged elevator, and the Intuitionists, who go by sound that they hear while riding the elevator, when one crashes, she is blamed for the destruction it caused since she was the person to last inspect it. Fearing she was set up, she goes on the run to figure out who has it out for her. The plot is a bit thin, but what it services is a little bit cool. I stumbled onto the metaphor for what elevators mean in this story, and the few twists the book offers add some poignant perspectives on how race is treated in the 21st century. Like a futuristic Chandler, the real treats hear are not the story, but in the place the author vividly depicts, and Whitehead does so marvelously.
Rating: 4/5

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