“God said let Tesla be…and all was light.”
– B.A. Behrendt
It is rumored that in 1899, then U.S. Patent Commissioner Charles H. Duell said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Samantha Hunt’s new novel creatively juxtaposes this idea with its own clever title, The Invention of Everything Else. Part history, part love story, the novel reclaims the last days of Nikola Tesla, the idiosyncratic engineer/inventor of alternating current electricity. Upon this otherwise mundane week in history, Hunt imposes an unlikely friendship between Tesla and a chambermaid, a time machine and a man who might be from the future. The result is magical — (or is it just science?).
The year is 1943. Tesla resides in room 3327 at the Hotel New Yorker. Seemingly by accident, Louisa, a chambermaid at the hotel, gets temporarily reassigned to Tesla’s room where he discovers her (the quintessential snoop) going through his things.
“New York is haunted by bones, hair, abandoned baby carriages, abandoned babies, grease, hardened old chewing gum, forgotten silver frames with photos of people no one remembers tucked inside, even the sphagnum moss that once grew where the stock exchange now sits. People have lived in this city for so long that there are dead things in the soil, in the drinking water, in the air New York City breathes. Ghosts wait on stoops or lean against doorways. The only place these ghosts really disappear is inside the hotel. Here, Louisa thinks, everything is different. It’s not yet old enough to be haunted. This is the new world. Here is the efficient. Here is the modern. Elegant people dine on the latest dishes…[and] everything is cleverly designed, space age, really. Sleek, functional, and hidden. There are numerous back hallways, ingeniously concealed stairs and doors for employees only. Maids slip into these secret shortcuts…catching snippets of conversation –” (p. 171)
The story unfolds through alternating points of view, revealing interesting truths about Tesla’s life as the fictitious Louisa works through the mysteries of love, life, death – and time travel. Hunt, whose first novel, The Seas, won a 2006 National Book Award for writers under 35, deftly weaves fact and fiction in perpetual motion, leaving readers with an enchanting impression of Tesla — and so much more.
When a friend of her father’s unveils the time machine he’s been working on for two years in an abandoned airplane hangar, Louisa asks,
“Azor, have you done this before?”
“What?” he asks.
“Traveled through time…”
“Why, we’re traveling through time right now, Dear.”
…What if the time machine works? (p. 112)
Hardcover, 257 pages
Houghton Mifflin, February 2008