Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

The writing of this book is just so great—it’s got deft wordplay that isn’t in the least showy and a conveys the mood of the setting just perfectly. It’s set in a semi-sci-fi world that parallels ours in many ways. It’s different, but not so much really. It’s a world in which skyscrapers have taken over the cities and conversely elevators are largely important in society. Lila Mae Watson is the first black female elevator inspector and an Intuitionist—meaning, that unlike the Empiricists, she inspects elevators with her mind rather than with her tools. She uses her inner eye, rather than simply her eyes. Racism is still rampant in the North, and is subtle and covert at turns. Lila Mae is made to feel her difference in every situation, but her bold assurance in her own skills and her disdain for those who would impede her progress and passion for elevators keeps her grounded. But Lila Mae becomes a suspect when an elevator plummets in a building she had inspected and given a clean bill-of-health just days before. She finds herself a pawn in a political power struggle between the Empiricists and Intuitionists and doesn’t know who to trust. Lila Mae’s quest for the truth, for her hero Fulton’s rumored “black box” invention, is both riveting and illuminating. Race, class and corruption collide in a satisfying conclusion.

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