Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

At my book group the other night, I brought copies of Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje and The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. Both were books I’d read before, and both are extremely quotable. It only occurred to me that evening that the protagonists of both books are young, highly intelligent, emotionally guarded women who are conducting an investigation. Anil wants to find out what happened to “Sailor,” whose skeleton was hidden among ancient remains at an archeological site in Sri Lanka. Lila Mae Watson in The Intuitionist wants to find out what caused the crash of an elevator she had inspected a short time before. Rereading The Intuitionist, I noticed a certain similarity to Saul Bellow in the way that Whitehead plays intellectual and colloquial language against each other. At our group, we each read a paragraph from the book we’re presenting. This is from the very long paragraph I read, which begins on p. 227:
How often do catastrophic accidents touch down here. The last one in this country was what, she searches after it, thirty-five years ago, out West. The ten passengers (midjoke, aimless perusal of the inspection certificate, fondling house-key weight in trouser pockets, trying not to whistle) had time to scream, of course, but not much else. The investigators (and what a hapless bunch they would have been, the field so young) never found any reason for it. Total freefall. What happens when too many impossible events occur, when multiple redundancy is not enough.

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