Up, Up, and Away

Colson Whitehead's first novel rises on the merits of its central image-- the elevator

And write her own. For if an elevator is time, and time passing, it also marks literary history (the black box a stand-in for the typewriter). Whitehead divides his novel into two parts, "Down" and "Up," and his cool vignettes, divided by asterisks, are as floors. "Intuition," Lila Mae recognizes, simply means communication; "empiricism," observation and practice. She needs both to write, as she does finally, alone in a room, devising a different future. What she invents may be embraced by others, as she embraced Fulton's inventions (and as Whitehead builds on Ellison, Vonnegut, Pynchon). Her rambling quest to yoke together Fulton's identities as "aimless mystic" and "arid academic" is Whitehead's own intellectual journey. The undiscriminating capitalists are publishers. And us readers, well, what are we but eager passengers, joyriding in Whitehead's magical elevator?

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