Colson Whitehead | Fiction, 1999
This is an odd book, with an odd plot. An elevator crashes in a new municipal building; Lila Mae Watson was the last elevator inspector to visit this building. A battle ensues between the Empiricist elevator inspectors (who believe in structural details and mechanics) and the Intuitionists (who rely on instinct and intuition to inspect their assigned elevators) in the Department of Elevator Inspectors. Theoretical Elevators, Volumes 1 and 2, are the textbooks for the Intuitionists at the Institute for Vertical Transport. Lila Mae is an avowed Intuitionist, graduated first in her class of course from the institute, and is the first and only female Black elevator inspector in the department.
Is this tongue-in-cheek? Well, yes. Is it fantasy? Yes. Is the book about race? That, too. And it is also a mystery as Lila Mae attempts to unravel what happened with the crashed elevator. To me, if was simply confusing, odd, weird.
Yes, you know this author. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning The Underground Railroad (see my review on 01/16/17). I so enjoyed Railroad, I thought I would read something else by Whitehead, and I chose his first novel. IMHO, what a long way this author has come from 1999 to 2016. Positive reviewers use words like quirky, absurd, brainy, and bizarre about The Intuitionist. I found it overwritten, as first novels often are. I had wished I was reading a digital copy so I could check the meaning of his words. In one few-page section where I wrote down words that seemed over the top to me, he used scofflaw, mithridatic, and longevous.
If you have read The Intuitionist, I would love to see your comments. If not, check the “staff recommendations” shelf at your local library for your next read. Don't bother with this.