When Pie-faced Annie shakes off her stupor, she will recall a strange dream about elevators and falling, and will chalk it up to falling off the toilet, which will happen in about an hour.”
MOTIVATION for READING: With Whitehead winning the Pulitzer for The Underground Railroad, I wanted to try something else he has written. This one appealed to me the most and it was available at my library.
At the pounding of the door, she closes the book (the pages resist each other, so jealous and protective are they of Lila Mae’s touch).”
WHAT’s it ABOUT: Lila Mae Watson is the first black woman Elevator Inspector. She keeps to herself, trusts few, is dedicated to the work. She is on Team-Intuitionism. Most of the old-boys-club members of the Department where Lila Mae works are Team-Empiricism. One day, an elevator crashes in a brand new building just as the Mayor is about to show it off to dignitaries and VIPS. Luckily, no one was inside the box. A cable was cut? broke? what HAPPENED? Unfortunately, Lila Mae was the last person to ‘see’ the elevator in proper working condition. Was it a set up? But why and by whom? Games are afoot, as they say; none are what they seem.
Lila Mae is determined to clear her name and even more than that, to understand what is really important.
Lila Mae’s been a practicing solipsist since before she could walk, and the days’ recent events are doing irreparable damage to her condition.”
WHAT’s GOOD: I really enjoyed the writing and how the story unfolded. Occasionally, we would get flashbacks from Lila Mae’s childhood, her education to be an Inspector, and her first year after moving to the big city. Her father’s ambitions played a role but she is never sentimental. Also fun, is how the story expects you to already have a respect for the importance due the profession of Elevator Inspection, and everything builds upon that. Why, surely everyone wants to grow up and be inspect elevators, right? Of course, we do! It is fascinating how subtle Whitehead creates this world. Language and atmosphere, with odd originality in characters and descriptions.
It’s just darn clever and beautifully expressed.
That the devil still walks the earth and architecture is no substitute for prayer, for cracked knees and desperate barter with the gods.”
What’s NOT so good: Whitehead has the ability to confound me in my wish to have a concrete sense of time and place. He is so vague and loose with any tie downs to such. Bugs me but it is also good for me, I think. Lila Mae takes awhile to warm up to – she’s prickly, and often is accused of being haughty but we know it is armor. I felt her loneliness but I wonder if she felt or recognized it herself.
As the elevator reaches the fifth floor landing, an orange octagon cartwheels into her mind’s frame. It hops up and down, incongruous with the annular aggression of the red spike. Cubes and parallelograms emerge around the eighth floor, but they’re satisfied with half -hearted little jigs and don’t disrupt the proceedings like the mischievous orange octagon. The octagon ricochets into the foreground, famished for attention. She knows what it is. The triad of helical buffers recedes farther from her, ten stories down at the dusty and dark floor of the well.
“I’m going to have to cite you for a faulty overspeed governor,” Lila Mae says.
“But you haven’t even looked at it,” the super says.
FINAL THOUGHTS: A quote inside the book jacket states,
“Whitehead artfully crosses back and forth over racial, political, and artistic borders to create a work of stunning depth, soulfulness, and originality, starring one of the most intriguing heroine in contemporary fiction.”
I would agree.
RATING: Four slices of pie with extra whipped cream.
The mother thanks him, promises a pie.”