The Guest Lecture

With “a voice as clear, sincere, and wry as any I’ve read in current American fiction” (Joshua Cohen), Martin Riker’s poignant and startlingly original novel asks how to foster a brave mind in anxious times, following a newly jobless academic rehearsing a speech on John Maynard Keynes for a surprising audience.

In a hotel room in the middle of the night, Abby, a young feminist economist, lies awake next to her sleeping husband and daughter. Anxious that she is grossly underprepared for a talk she is presenting tomorrow on optimism and John Maynard Keynes, she has resolved to practice by using an ancient rhetorical method of assigning parts of her speech to different rooms in her house and has brought along a comforting albeit imaginary companion to keep her on track—Keynes himself.

Yet as she wanders with increasing alarm through the rooms of her own consciousness, Abby finds herself straying from her prepared remarks on economic history, utopia, and Keynes’s pragmatic optimism. A lapsed optimist herself, she has been struggling under the burden of supporting a family in an increasingly hostile America after being denied tenure at the university where she teaches. Confronting her own future at a time of global darkness, Abby undertakes a quest through her memories to ideas hidden in the corners of her mind—a piecemeal intellectual history from Cicero to Lewis Carroll to Queen Latifah—as she asks what a better world would look like if we told our stories with more honest and more hopeful imaginations.

With warm intellect, playful curiosity, and an infectious voice, Martin Riker acutely animates the novel of ideas with a beating heart and turns one woman’s midnight crisis into the performance of a lifetime.

About the author

Martin Riker is the co-founder and publisher of the feminist press Dorothy, a Publishing Project, and the author of Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return. He teaches in the English department at Washington University in St. Louis, and his criticism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, among other publications.

Praise for The Guest Lecture:

An Indie Next Selection
Named a Most Anticipated Book by The MillionsBustle, and Powell’s

“Mesmerizing . . . The Guest Lecture is a novel of ideas and feelings, of feelings about ideas and ideas about feelings. If this lecture will be her final word on her subject, Abigail naturally wants to express everything. Living in ‘an era of overload’ can feel like a rush, and the book doesn’t deny us that. It bursts with philosophy, jokes, factoids, tense academic social dynamics and fragments of formative memory.”—Maggie Lange, Washington Post

“Martin Riker’s The Guest Lecture is like Ducks, Newburyport meets The Good Place meets The Chair, which is to say it’s an incredible book that you need to read right now . . . what follows is a bunch of gleeful tangents, diversions, deep dives into Abby’s past, and one Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired fever dream of a courtroom scene. There’s something so delightfully playful about this novel, about its willingness to explore the corners of the mind and to follow the firing synapses of imagination . . . The Guest Lecture boldly asks: how can we hold hope for our tomorrow?”—Katie Yee, Literary Hub

Leave a Comment

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.