The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
It is 1943, and the renowned inventor Nikola Tesla occupies a forbidden room on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, stealing electricity. Louisa, a young maid at the hotel determined to befriend him, wins his attention through a shared love of pigeons; with her we hear his tragic and tremendous life story unfold. Meanwhile, Louisa discovers that her father—and her handsome, enigmatic love interest, Arthur Vaughan—are on an unlikely mission to travel back in time and find his beloved late wife. A masterful hybrid of history, biography, and science fiction, The Invention of Everything Else is an absorbing story about love and death and a wonderfully imagined homage to one of history’s most visionary scientists. (via Goodreads)
Back in September, before I read The Invention of Everything Else, but after I had marked it TBR and purchased Lightning by Jean Echenoz, I took particular notice of an entry at Paleofuture: Making Nikola Tesla a Saint Makes Us All Dumber. The gist, if you don’t click through, is that it’s better to have a realistic notion of a person rather than a mythologized one because it makes them, well, a person. Does working with a character that’s a person (rather than a “character”) make for better fiction? More satisfying fiction?
To the outside observer, Nikola Telsa had a few eccentricities. I have a tendency to view eccentricities in their least exaggerated forms. To me, Tesla sounds like an introvert and probably on the autistic spectrum (as are many of the engineers I know). He was very intelligent, very outspoken in his views, and maybe not the world’s best communicator (…as are many of the engineers I know…). It’s easy to latch on to eccentricities and blow them out of proportion into pure crazy. I found Samantha Hunt’s version of Tesla verging on mentally ill and that seemed extreme to me.
It’s been a while since I’ve read anything-goes literary fiction. I found it tiring. (And again, this might be because last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a while.) There were dual narrators (mostly), with Telsa in the first person and Louisa (mostly) in third person. It’s set somewhat in the last days of Tesla’s life as the past and present start, for him, colliding in his mind. For Louisa, the juxtaposition of past and present takes the form of a time machine built by Azor, the balmy friend of her father. Obviously, there are some parallels. Is Azor any crazier than Tesla who claimed to have received transmissions from Mars? To the everyman, should a time machine be any more ridiculous than AC current? The story does veer into the land of speculative fiction when it seems that perhaps Azor’s time machine might have worked. And I don’t know if that magical realism aspect was really needed to give Louisa hope. Maybe I just take too much comfort in science to appreciate magic.
Genre: Historical speculative fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? I think I came upon someone’s page 99 challenge and thought it sounded interesting.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Procurement: Tempe Public Library
Bookmark: Checkout receipt.