The Guest Lecture

The hyperactive brain of an insomniac in a state of high anxiety is some kind of place to be, as Martin Riker (Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return) demonstrates in The Guest Lecture. This ingenious novel captures the maelstrom inside the head of Abby, a feminist economist, who lies awake in a "dark hotel room somewhere in middle America" with her husband, Ed, who's "allergic to ambition," and her young daughter, Ali. Abby is petrified about the speech she has to give the next day on the economist John Maynard Keynes. That's not all she frets about: she also worries about how not having received tenure will affect her career and family. And she shares these fears with an imaginary confabulator: Keynes himself.

To help her get through her lecture, Keynes suggests a famous memorization technique: "Assign a different portion of the speech to each room of a building you know well, then... mentally move through this building." Abby proceeds from her dining room to the kitchen and elsewhere, but her thoughts wander from her lecture and into other aspects of her life--a notorious essay she once wrote to influential professors, a high school crush and more. Riker has a gift for making economics accessible, as when Abby states that Keynes thought the "financial catastrophe of 1930 would be a bother, a bad day in a long week." Fans of Joshua Cohen's The Netanyahus and other works that mix intellectual pyrotechnics with personal stories will savor this novel. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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