Mad Scientist

Ron Charles in The Washington Post:

BookThe Invention of Everything Else: A Novel by Samantha Hunt

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 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.

More here.