Everything is illuminated

Samantha Hunt weaves historical fiction from Nikola Tesla's biography
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  March 11, 2009

090313_Hunt_main
A PARTIAL INVENTOR Historical-fiction writer Samantha Hunt. 

A solemn pigeon, a rolling thunderstorm, flecks of dust, a statue of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Manhattan's Bryant Park: nearly everything 
SAMANTHA HUNT reads from The Invention of Everything Else | Mariner Books | 257 pages | $13.95 | March 16 @ 4:15 pm | at Chase Hall, Bates College, Lewiston | 207.786.6330 | March 17 @ 7 pm | at Portsmouth Public Library, 175 Parrott Ave, Portsmouth NH | 603.431.2100 | Free
speaks in The Invention of Everything Else, Samantha Hunt's second novel. Most of the time, the world's sounding board is the aging eccentric Nikola Tesla, real-life inventor of alternating-current electricity, radio waves, and a death ray he believed could end all war in the world. In what may as well be a commentary on his disgraced state — Tesla believed energy should be free for all, and fame- and money-hungry patent-seekers reaped the benefits of his ideas and altruism — he's residing in 1943 at the New Yorker Hotel, the Manhattan hotel so large it held its own, direct-current, power plant. (The hotel switched to AC power in the 1960s, long after Tesla's death.) SAMANTHA HUNT reads from The Invention of Everything Else | Mariner Books | 257 pages | $13.95 | March 16 @ 4:15 pm | at Chase Hall, Bates College, Lewiston | 207.786.6330 | March 17 @ 7 pm | at Portsmouth Public Library, 175 Parrott Ave, Portsmouth NH | 603.431.2100 | Free

Tesla is essentially alone — he speaks to a pigeon he refers to as his wife, and he's reciting his memoirs to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who by this time has been dead for over two decades — until a plucky 24-year-old chambermaid named Louisa becomes intrigued by the strange old man on the 33rd floor after she learns he's responsible for a complete blackout in the hotel. The two bond over unlikely similarities — Louisa also cares for pigeons, and is awestruck by radio technology — and spur each other's imaginations, despite the fact that they've become wary of idealism.

Their relationship is somewhat crudely synergistic, as all of Louisa's companions have dreams as unlikely as Tesla's. Louisa's father, still mourning a wife who died in childbirth, endeavors to try a time-traveling machine his long-lost friend Azor is building; and her new suitor, Arthur (who is possibly from the future), is an engineering whiz helping to construct the device. Tesla's history of disappointment anchors Louisa's skepticism about their scheme, but at the same time, his wondrous achievements give her pause.

Despite being overstuffed with tangential subplots, too-convenient characters, and predictable plot mechanics, The Invention of Everything Else brims with Tesla's prescient ideas about energy. Hunt's novel is thoroughly researched and endearingly enamored with its subjects. Even things that sound like literary license, like Tesla's friendship with a white pigeon, turn out to be true; only Louisa's half of the story — perhaps the titular "everything else" — is an invention. The Hotel New Yorker reads like a character unto itself, and in addition to Twain, there are cameos by George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and Orson Welles's War of the Worlds radio broadcast, among other fleeting guests. (Quotes Hunt borrows from historical documents are cited in the back of the book.)

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Birds of paradise, What congress did on its summer vacation, NAScar-bon neutral?, More more >
  Topics: Books , Media, Nature and the Environment, Wildlife,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   GIRLS (AND BOYS) ON FILM  |  July 11, 2014
    The Maine International Film Festival, now in its 17th year in Waterville, remains one of the region’s more ambitious cultural institutions, less bound by a singular ambition than a desire to convey the breadth and depth of cinema’s past and present. (This, and a healthy dose of music and human-interest documentaries.) On that account, MIFF ’14 is an impressive achievement, offering area filmgoers its best program in years. With so much to survey, let’s make haste with the recommendations. (Particularly emphatic suggestions are marked in bold print.)  
  •   AMERICAN VALUES  |  June 11, 2014
    The Immigrant  seamlessly folds elements of New York history and the American promise into a story about the varieties of captivity and loyalty.
  •   CHARACTER IS POLITICAL  |  April 10, 2014
    Kelly Reichardt, one of the most admired and resourceful voices in American independent cinema, appears at the Portland Museum of Art Friday night to participate in a weekend-long retrospective of her three most recent films.
  •   LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX  |  April 09, 2014
    Throughout its two volumes and four hours of explicit sexuality, masochism, philosophical debate, and self-analysis, Nymphomaniac remains the steadfast vision of a director talking to himself, and assuming you’ll be interested enough in him to listen and pay close attention.
  •   ASHES AND DIORAMAS  |  March 28, 2014
    History, rather than ennui, is the incursion that motivates this, his most antic and most somber work.

 See all articles by: CHRISTOPHER GRAY