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As She Climbed Across the Table
Author Jonathan Lethem
Cover artist Jacket design by David J. High
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel, science fiction
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
February 17, 1997
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 212 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN ISBN 0-385-48517-4 (first edition, hardcover)
OCLC 35145971
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3562.E8544 A9 1997
Preceded by The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye
Followed by Girl in Landscape

As She Climbed Across the Table is a science fiction novel written by Jonathan Lethem in 1997. The book takes place at the fictional University of Northern California at Beauchamp.


Lack is an emptiness created in a particle collider. Professor Soft theorized that the experiment would replicate the big bang and opened a wormhole to a microscopic universe. Dr. Soft theorized that this wormhole would close shortly after the universe was created but the new universe clung to reality and the wormhole did not close. The wormhole however has no mass or any other indication of it's existence and so it was named Lack. Alice was first to discover that Lack instead of absorbing everything, as Dr. Soft predicted, only absorbed certain items that seemed more conceptual. It took Alice's key's but not a paperclip. The only rule was if Lack choose to refuse an object once, it would forever refuse to consume that object.


  • Philip Engstrand:An anthropology professor at the University at Beauchamp who is known as the Dean of Interdiscipline for studying the relationships in academic environments. He strives to win back Alice's love after she becomes obsessed with Lack.
  • Alice Coombs:A physicist who tries to understand Lack as an intelligent being instead of a physics experiment.
  • Doctor Soft:Lack's creator. He allows Alice to take over research into Lack after she shows Lack has a preference for certain particles which he thought was impossible.
  • Garth Poys:A blind man who has blindsight. His eyes work his brain just doesn't know how to see. This allows him to get past the observer problem.
  • Evan Robart:Garth's friend who is also blind but amaurotic.
  • Carmo Braxia:An Italian physicist who is interested in studying the physics behind Lack. He is the one who finally cracks the mystery.
  • Cynthia Jalter:A therapist who studies coupling. She gets to know Philip through Evan and Garth who's relationship she is studying. She tries to help Philip understand that Alice no longer gives him the attention he needs because of lack and that she is bad for him.
  • Georges De Tooth:A professor that Philip convinces to research Lack by treating it as a self-contained text.


Philip Engstrand's girlfriend Alice Coombs becomes obsessed with understanding Lack. Because Lack chooses to consume some objects but not others, Alice thinks of it as having a personality. Philip becomes jealous as Alice becomes more involved with Lack and stops sleeping at their apartment.

After a laboratory cat is consumed by Lack there is a protest on campus. Philip breaks up the protest saying that Lack has killed one cat and there are much larger concerns in the world. He expects this to impress Alice but instead she becomes defensive of Lack. Later that night Philip is angry and gets drunk. When he comes back, Dr. Soft has brought Alice back to her and Philip's apartment and says she is no longer capable of conducting her research since he believes she tried to enter Lack.

As a result of Alice's mental breakdown, Dr. Soft decides to give different individuals time to study Lack. One of these is the Italian physicist, Braxia, and his team who offers Soft time with his particle collider. Another is Georges De Tooth who Philip suggested study Lack as a text.

Despite all of the new people studying Lack, Alice is still obsessed and continues trying get Lack to like her so she can be consumed. Everyone continues to be baffled by Lack until Braxia tells Philip his theory of Lack. He says lack is a new universe that doesn't have intelligent life. He says that because of the strong anthropic principle, a universe cannot exist if there isn't conscious life to observe it. Since Lack does not contain any conscious life it clings to the our reality that does. The personality it developed was that of the first conscious person it encountered, Alice. What it absorbed was what she liked.

After hearing this, Philip decides to get his definitive answer to whether Alice still liked him. He goes to the lab and enters the universe Lack has created meaning Alice likes him. Like Braxia had said, Lack had clung to reality and had created a replica of the University but from only stuff it had absorbed. He grabs the cat that was there and tries to climb back into Lack in an attempt to bring it back. This time however he is in a universe created in replica to the blind men's universe and he cannot see. After meeting up with them he climbs back into Lack where he becomes one with Lack.


Reviewers considered the book a light read that was entertaining. Steven E. Alford says "It embodies a distilled, gentle, silly look at the world". [1] Another common agreement is that Lethem defies the boundaries in traditional genres. Glen Engel-Cox points out that instead of like a traditional science fiction, focusing on a "driven scientist in that endless pursuit of knowledge", As She Climbed Across the Table focuses on "someone like us [a science fiction reader], intrigued by the type but not one of them himself." [2] It received some criticism for inaccuracies in scientific principles. Eric Weeks compares it to The Tao of Physics with its "muddled attempts to be philosophical about quantum mechanics which fail to get the physics correct." [3] He also talks about how it contains bad physics jokes that he finds distracting.


  1. ^ Alford, Steven (May 18), Love makes the parallel universe go 'round in wry tale, retrieved December 5, 2011  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Engel-Cox, Glen (1997),   Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Weeks, Eric (August 30),, retrieved December 5, 2011  Text " year 1997 " ignored (help); Check date values in: |date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)