The solitary self is neither as trapped as it is in Castro’s novel nor as transcendent as it is in The Mezzanine ... The Guest Lecture situates the mind in relation to the world using a clever and surprisingly effective conceit ... The novel itself is governed by a finely orchestrated sense of instability. Riker punctuates the chatty narration with abrupt bursts of self-castigation as Abby struggles to seize the reins of her runaway mind ... Moments are believable but didactic, disrupting the vividly peripatetic flow of thought with the clumsiness of cliché. The Guest Lecture is far more compelling when it addresses the chaos of the outside world through the more intimate texture of Abby’s anxiety ... A strange little novel of cosmopolitan solipsism.
Involves an imaginative leap—across gender and profession—in its chosen protagonist, though it’s a credit to Riker’s virtuosity that I forgot this almost immediately. Abby is among the most convincing female narrators written by a man, largely because of how capacious she is, and how many voices she harbors within herself ... The Guest Lecture evokes a choir within a single, immobile person ... Dense with double meaning ... Riker (thankfully) spares us hotel room prose, but he also discovers an imaginative means of reconciling realism to ideas. Instead of scrubbing his novel of characters, dialogue, and detail—or calling attention to their artifice through metafictional bulletins—he outsources the world-building to his protagonist. It is Abby, after all, who constructs the mnemonic house, piece by piece, with the poetic verve of a novelist. It is she who fractures her voice into multiple characters and sets them in dialogue with one another.
The Guest Lecture is a novel of ideas and feelings, of feelings about ideas and ideas about feelings ... It bursts with philosophy, jokes, factoids, tense academic social dynamics and fragments of formative memory ... Riker makes a credible critique of academia’s priorities ... The Guest Lecture analyzes how people live with their ideas, particularly when the world tells them those ideas are misguided. Defending personal philosophy in the face of rejection is always difficult, especially when the personal philosophy is optimism. A breathless, night-before-the-big-day cram feels like an ideal form for this expression. The book carries the exhaustive feeling that it’s captured everything the protagonist wanted to say. It doesn’t attempt the great unmastered art form of the age, to leave things out. A last hurrah shouldn’t skip any final word.
Light, charming and shyly philosophical ... In The Guest Lecture, Keynes is a prop for a novel that’s barely a novel. (The other characters are sketched, as if they were James Thurber drawings, in a gentle line or two.) Riker pulls it off because he’s observant, and he has a grainy, semi-comic feel for what angst and failure really feel like ... In Riker’s hands, Abigail is good company, and sometimes for a novel that’s enough.
The novel’s juggling act is in combining an affectionate depiction of Abigail’s neuroses with a contemplation of ideas, specifically those connected to Keynes’s economic theories, which it fascinatingly unpacks ... At times her stream of consciousness drifts into randomness and panicky hyperventilation, which is faithful to the nature of late-night mental rambling but not necessarily interesting. It’s always a relief when Keynes, calm and reasonable, reappears to gently usher her back to the subject at hand.
Riker’s novel is in good literary company as a book in which 'nothing happens' ... What begins as a statement of absence transforms into a positive construction of an alternate world: one that questions our inherited sense of reality and shows how much we take for granted in our everyday lives ... The Guest Lecture performs this transformation partly through Abby’s analysis of John Maynard Keynes ... The voice is not disembodied.
Tracing Abby’s restless thoughts toward a daylight epiphany, Riker embraces the 'didactic novel' genre used by feminist writers in the early nineteenth century. It’s a risky approach; what some readers will appreciate as a helpfully topical map of one woman’s feminist-intellectual development, others may consider a tendentious exercise. But Keynes himself declared that 'words ought to be a little wild,' and this clever, provocative novel, with its hard-wrought optimism, honors that call to disrupt.
Riker challenges the trope that men can’t write successfully about women; Abigail’s voice feels authentic ... While readers wanting a conventional plot will be frustrated, those open to more experimental forms will find enjoyment and insight.
A brilliant and innovative exploration of modern economic history in the form of a late-night waking dream ... Abby’s metaphysical wanderings swell to a scorching condemnation of modern life and an empathetic celebration of its meaningful moments. It’s a transporting, clever, and inspired work of fiction.