Elevators

Exhibit 18.16

Notes

* Steven Karl gave a mini-review of Play, the new volume of The Cupboard by Mathias Svalina, here. “Svalina’s writing ranges from simplistic to absurd and is always filled with wit, intelligence, and most importantly compassion.” So very true. I think if you’ll read the whole review you’ll see that by ‘simplistic’ he’s implying something innocent or childlike which has always been one of my favorite aspects of Mathias’s writing.

* I’m glad somebody else got to write that. If it were left to me, I would have said something like, “Svalina’s writing sometimes seems like it’s coming from the smartest, strangest, most well-read child, probably some kind of space child who, when we get him back to the lab, shows us how much more further he can see using his space eyes–both inward and outward–than we will ever be able to. But this vision has not cost him his sense of humor or wonder, it has only made him more aware of possibility, of justice and truth and the coming of the Space Conquistadors.”

* See, it’s better if I just tell you to considering buying M’s volume or just subscribing to The Cupboard. All of that can be done here.

* On the elevator this morning someone said to me, “I hope the sun burns off this grey” (although they probably would have spelled it gray. I’ve just decided to spell my words the way the Queen would want me to spell them). This seemed like a rather violent greeting. Especially since I was mostly asleep, we were inside, and the only grey I could see was in the person’s hair. I believe I replied, “Yes.” But I didn’t really mean it.

* Yesterday I was the 28th person to vote at my precinct. This was at 5:15 in the afternoon. The elderly women running the polling place were getting a little saucy. I’ve never had so much fun voting for three races (two competitive).

* I’d let you know if the good guys won, but, honestly, when it comes to the local airport authority, I don’t think there are good guys and bad guys; there are only bad life decisions.

Comment / Posted in Elevators, The Cupboard, Vote

Exhibit 13.23

Here’s what makes for an awkward elevator ride: Start on the top floor of a building, hit the button for an elevator, and wait. When the elevator doors beep open, walk toward it. Stop. There is a person in the elevator. Pause so they can get off. It’s the top floor of the building, after all, so they must be getting off. Stop. They aren’t getting off.

Walk onto the elevator while staring at them accusingly. Notice that none of the buttons in the elevator have been pushed. Pause so they can explain why they took the elevator to the top of the building but are now refusing to leave it. Watch as they look bored and upset as you reach across them to hit the button, as if this is ruining their otherwise very pleasant elevator ride. Consider asking them why they are on the elevator as you being your descent. Meet their eyes and try to stare the truth out of them. Give up when it’s clear their will is stronger. Stop. Prepare to exit the elevator. Pause to let them go first out of politeness. When they don’t exit, resist the temptation to yell, O, come on, what’s going on with you, you creepy bastard? Walk out of the elevator to a life that now knows mystery.

Incidentally, if you see me later today and it doesn’t look like I have a costume, know that I’m dressed as The Person Who Wouldn’t Leave The Elevator. This will be the case today and for the rest of my life.

Comment / Posted in Awkward, Costumes, Elevators

Exhibit 8.8

The Intuitionist

Colson Whitehead’s novel is about race. And elevators. Actually, mostly elevators. Which are, presumably, a metaphor for racial progress. So it’s still about race. But elevators, too.

The city is never named, nor is the year given, but it is more or less an alternate version of pre-Civil Rights era New York where elevators have allowed the city to achieve a lasting and modern verticality (notably to Lila Mae, the city’s first black, female elevator inspector, mankind has achieved this technological advancement far faster than its achieved any commitment to equality). For whatever reason, elevator inspectors are an essential cog in public service, the equivalent of police and firemen not just in their duties but in their cronyism, corruption, and insider fraternity. Lila Mae isn’t liked, not just because of her race and gender, but because she is an Intuitionist–a kind of elevator inspector who intuits problems without a physical examination of the elevator–who are opposed by the Empiricists, traditional elevator inspectors who hold power in the profession’s guild.

There’s an election coming up for the elevator guild presidency that, for the first time, an Intuitionist might win. An elevator crashes. It’s one Lila Mae has inspected. She’s a high profile Intuitionist so it’s not unreasonable to assume it’s been done to influence the election. But why? But who? But elevators?

If it sounds silly–and it probably sounds silly–it’s also remarkably brilliant. At no point does Whitehead take his subject anything less than absolutely seriously. In this world, journals are filled the minutiae of elevator repair, new elevator models are introduced to great fanfare and publicity, and who wins the elevator guild election dominates the media. That’s just how it is, and that commitment makes for a powerful allegory. Even rhapsodizing by the founder of Intuitionism on the coming age of ‘second elevation’ works for both the plot and the purpose and only at the end does Whitehead’s book strain to contain its message underneath its genre construction.

You see, it’s a mystery. To keep her job, Lila Mae needs to discover who set up the elevator crash, but she quickly realizes she can’t trust anyone, even her fellow Intuitionists. Her isolation can’t be separated from her race and gender and both ultimately play an essential role in the plot. The allegory is too powerful to ignored, but it wouldn’t be fair to the book to stop one’s reading there. It’s a really gripping plot, elevators and all, and it doesn’t hurt that Whitehead is an incredible prose stylist.

He’s that good, capable of long passages of rhapsodizing over his intricate world while still keeping things moving. He’s the rare writer capable of adapting his prose to fit the action of the book, and he does it almost sentence by sentence without it ever fracturing or feeling disjointed. I’ve been lucky to read a lot of good books recently, but I’m not sure if any were exactly what I wanted to read in the way The Intuitionist was. I want to read more novels like this one. I want to read more Colson Whitehead.

Maybe I should say that I don’t know if it ended particularly well. Or at least it ended abruptly with some threads resolved better than others. Or maybe I was just sad it was over.

You can check out the first chapter here. I think you should.

2 Comments / Posted in Books, Elevators, Fiction