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The Invention of Everything Else: A Novelby Samantha Hunt
"Samantha Hunt's magical new novel is a love letter to one of the world's most remarkable inventors....Tesla was born in Serbia in 1856, and his life followed a rags-to-riches-to-rags trajectory that would sound melodramatic if it weren't so tragic and true — or told with such surprising charm in The Invention of Everything Else." Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
Synopses & Reviews
A wondrous imagining of an unlikely friendship between the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla and a young chambermaid in the Hotel New Yorker where Tesla lives out his last days.
From the moment she first catches sight of the Hotel New Yorker's most famous resident on New Years Day 1943, Louisa — obsessed with radio dramas and the secret lives of the guests — is determined to befriend this strange man. As Louisa discovers their shared affinity for pigeons, she also begins to piece together Tesla's extraordinary story of life as an immigrant, a genius, and a halfhearted capitalist.
Meanwhile, Louisa — faced with her father's imminent departure in a time machine to reunite with his late wife, and pleasantly unsettled by the arrival in her life of a mysterious mechanic (perhaps from the future) named Arthur — begins to suspect that she has understood something about the relationship of love and invention that Tesla, for all his brilliance, never did.
The Invention of Everything Else luminously resurrects one of the greatest scientists of all time, Nikola Tesla, while magically transporting us — a la Steven Millhauser and Michael Chabon — to an early twentieth-century New York City thrumming with energy, wonder, and possibility.
"In Hunt's (The Seas) overstuffed and uneven novel set in New York, circa 1943, an aging Nikola Tesla lives at the Hotel New Yorker and cares for (and chats with) pigeons while planning what could be his boldest invention yet. He forges an unlikely friendship with Louisa Dewell, a 24-year-old chambermaid at the hotel who also keeps a pigeon coop. The book alternates between Niko's reminisces of turn-of-the century Manhattan and Louisa's current domestic dramas; Niko revisits old grievances concerning the usurpation or dismissal of his many inventions, and Louisa gets ensnared in her zany father's mission to travel back in time and reconnect with his dead wife via a time machine built by his lifelong friend Azor Carter. Assisting in the scheme is Louisa's mysterious beau, Arthur Vaughn, who may or may not be from the future. Although many events are drawn from Tesla's life, he and his peers, including Thomas Edison and John Muir, are cartoonish. Likewise, the city backdrop is drenched in rosy nostalgia (even Hell's Kitchen is a quaint neighborhood). Each individual plot thread has potential, but the cumulative effect is dulled by an unwieldy structure." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Samantha Hunt's magical new novel is a love letter to one of the world's most remarkable inventors. You may never have heard of Nikola Tesla, but he briefly outshone Edison and Westinghouse, and from the moment you wake up in the morning, you depend on devices made possible by his revolutionary work with electricity. Tesla was born in Serbia in 1856, and his life followed a rags-to-riches-to-rags... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) trajectory that would sound melodramatic if it weren't so tragic and true — or told with such surprising charm in 'The Invention of Everything Else.' This melancholy romance begins on the first day of 1943, in the New Yorker hotel, once the tallest building in the city. It rises up in these pages in all its mysterious grandeur, a lighter version of the surreal hotel in Steven Millhauser's 'Martin Dressler' (1996). Impoverished by a series of disastrous financial dealings, Tesla has been holed up here with his notes and unpaid bills for 10 years. He's talking to himself or to his beloved pigeon. His reputation has been eclipsed by other inventors (some of them thieves) and derided by the popular press. (Superman battles a mad scientist named Tesla.) There are rumors that he believes he's receiving messages from Mars, that he's building a death ray, that he's working on a time machine. Indeed, the novel is something of a time machine itself, and not just because of its lyrical recreation of New York in the first half of the 20th century. The story is a Rube Goldberg contraption of history, slapstick, biography and science fiction: a narrative bricolage that looks too precarious to work but is too alluring to resist. Holding it all together is a young woman named Louisa who works as a maid at the New Yorker. She 'imagines herself a small but necessary part of the glimmering hotel,' which employs 2,000 people. She's 'a sharp city girl, frank, skeptical, and wise, with a desperate weakness for corny radio tales.' She lives with her widowed father, a night watchman at the public library, and those lurid radio stories provide the only drama in her life. But they also fire her imagination about 'her alter ego, part chambermaid, part detective.' During a blackout on New Year's Day, she notices a brilliant light coming from under the door of a double suite on the 33rd floor. 'Someone in that room,' she realizes, 'has stolen all the electricity.' And so begins a touching friendship between an 87-year-old inventor in the final weeks of his life and a 24-year-old woman whose life is about to begin. A few subplots veer off like sparks — more eye-catching than illuminating. There are ominous hints of a secret government investigation of Tesla. Other chapters describe his remarkable childhood, his early breakthroughs with alternating current, his bitter rivalry with Edison, his descent into a figure of public ridicule. Hunt throws in stranger-than-fiction anecdotes about the opening of the New York Public Library, the development of the electric chair, and Tesla's efforts to harness lightning and project it around the world. In the novel's present tense, Louisa meets a handsome stranger who seems to have come from the future. And her father becomes convinced that a friend's machine can take him back to see his dead wife. I realize all this sounds hopelessly scrambled and silly, but Hunt moves through these engaging episodes with a voice that's at once smart and whimsical. And we can't help sharing Louisa's tender regard for Tesla. There's something incongruously vulnerable about this genius who hoped to harness the invisible fluid of the universe. Hunt peers into his childhood for the roots of his loneliness. He's certain that 'love is impossible,' yet spends his life trying to bring about a 'future where human beings have wings and electricity is miraculous and free.' Hunt has so gracefully mingled outlandish fact with outlandish fiction that it's difficult to know where one begins and the other ends, but it's a delightful homage to the scientist who tells Louisa, 'I want to be believed.' For a moment, in these pages, everything seems possible. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. Send e-mail to charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com." Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Hunt's poetic capabilities are enormous, her flight of words up to the task of taking us where she wants us to go. If you allow yourself to take off soaring with her, you will not be disappointed by the view." Alice Evans, The Oregonian
"Oddly charming and pleasantly peculiar, Hunt's novel offers a unique perspective on hope and imagining life's possibilities." Booklist
"Lucky for us that Samantha Hunt, in her highly imaginative second novel...is as obsessed as a writer can be about Tesla. We're made aware of this in the book's stunning opening pages, which take off in a voice finely crafted to carry Hunt's history-steeped tale." San Francisco Chronicle
"Peppered with literary quotations, historical figures, and subtle eroticism, this book will please readers who enjoy experimentation and uncertainty in both their fiction choices and their worldview. Recommended." Library Journal
"The facts of Tesla's life are fascinating, and...it's hard not to conclude that Hunt had her heart in the right place with this book, that her highest concerns are with wonder and love, with questions of survival." The Chicago Tribune
"There's much food for thought here and some very beautiful prose. Unfortunately, plot developments...come perilously close to being ludicrous....A bold but failed attempt to combine magic realism and intellectual fiction." Kirkus Reviews
Hunt's novel is a wondrous imagining of an unlikely friendship between the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla and a young chambermaid in the Hotel New Yorker, where Tesla lived out his last days.
From the moment Louisa first catches sight of the strange man who occupies a forbidden room on the thirty-third floor, she is determined to befriend him.Unbeknownst to Louisa, he is Nikola Tesla—inventor of AC electricity and wireless communication—and he is living out his last days at the Hotel New Yorker.Winning his attention through a shared love of pigeons, she eventually uncovers the story of Teslas life as a Serbian immigrant and a visionary genius: as a boy he built engines powered by June bugs, as a man he dreamed of pulling electricity from the sky.The mystery deepens when Louisa reunites with an enigmatic former classmate and faces the loss of her father as he attempts to travel to the past to meet up with his beloved late wife. Before the week is out, Louisa must come to terms with her own understanding of love, death, and the power of invention.
The Invention of Everything Else immerses the reader in a magical mid-twentieth-century New York City thrumming with energy, wonder, and possibility.
New York City thrums with energy, wonder, and possibility in this magical novel about the life of Nikola Tesla.
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.
About the Author
Samantha Hunt has spent four years researching Nikola Tesla, in the course of which she has appeared in several Tesla-related documentaries, visited Tesla fanatics across the country, and explored the five subterranean floors of the still-standing Hotel New Yorker. She is the author of the acclaimed first novel The Seas, and her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and McSweeneys and on This American Life. She recently received the first-ever "5 under 35" award from the National Book Foundation.
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