The Intuitionist is a futuristic story about elevators and elevator inspectors that/who communicate telepathically in order to accomplish the inspection. This mode of inspection is not held in the greatest favor as it is still (for that near-future time period) unconventional and somewhat (as some see it) experimental. The generally preferred means of inspection is mechanical whereby cables, machinery, structures, etc are physically examined and inspected. The heroine Lila Mae Watson uses the unconventional telepathic technique and has steadily won awards. Now--the conflict arises. Her inspections begin to fail and she must find out why: Is it sabotage or something else? In addition, she must make sense of the unfinished papers of the innovator of the method in order to solve her mysterious inspection failures.
I will offer a different point of view here. First, I don't support reading a summary before you read the book. Any good book or story resists summary. Flannery O'Connor famously said, "I write a story because a statement would be insufficient." The tendency of a summary is to put a book in a box and oversimplify it.
Second, I'd like to defend confusion and mystery. There's absolutely nothing wrong with reading a book and being unsure what it was all about. That means you're encountering something truly new, something outside your comfort zone.
There are no easy answers to your question. The Intuitionist makes creative use of the science fiction or speculative fiction genre. The best of these books function as allegories. Like the parables in the Bible, they have a literal meaning but also a symbolic one.
Literally, the book is about elevator inspectors. Symbolically, it seems to suggest much more. One could read the split between the Intuitionists and the Empiricists as representing that between Liberals and Conservatives, or Faith and Reason, or a little bit of both. Clearly, race and gender are involved.
Some have suggested that the book is a kind of updated version of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Like the main character in that book, Lila May wants more than anything else to be seen - seen for who she is, apart from her race and her gender.
Read the book a second time. Read Invisible Man. Trust your own instincts.
I agree with the advice of other editors. We are so blessed to have the amazing resource of the internet and the massive amount of knowledge that is contained there. Your best bet is to access what information you can on the internet, including the enotes section for this story, and to use that to guide you through the story and hopefully lead you to greater understanding. Good luck!
The story is definitely a little strange. Here is a way for you to get to the bottom of a story like this. First, read a summary before reading the work. Enotes usually has one, and has one for this story:
Next, read the work. It will make so much more sense. Then, return to and read the summary again. I think light bulbs will go off!
Your best bet, for several reasons, is to Google the author and title and look for reviews of this book. Not only will the reviews usually contain plot summaries of the work, but they will usually also give you a quick sense of the main issues involved and the main responses to such matters as themes, style, plot, and characters. Reading five or six (or more) good, thorough reviews of the book would be like sitting in on a very well-informed book club discussion. The internet now makes it extremely easy to track down reviews and even fuller discussions.
Don't forget, too, that eNotes provides much useful information about practically everything, including this novel. Here are two links that may help you: