marginalia || The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt

When it’s a case of [Bibliophilic] It’s Not You, It’s Me. I found a copy of Samantha Hunt‘s novel, The Invention of Everything Else, and bought it because a] I like the title, b] Hunt was part of The Millions’ “20 More Under 40” — that article called Invention “a fabulist meditation on Nikola Tesla.”

“Sir, I was wondering, how did you steal the electricity yesterday?”

He smiles at the very mention of it, color comes to his cheeks, electricity makes him blush. “Steal?” he asks. “I didn’t steal it, dear.” He steps closer to Louisa so that she is forced out into the hallway. “It was always mine,” he says and shuts the door between them.

Now that’s a chapter-power-ending. Note that almost every chapter in Hunt’s novel ends with this kind of stare-off-into-space bang. It can be amusing. Occasionally, rewarding [as I found the quote above], since I found Hunt’s prose fluid enough, with touches of whimsy here and there. The is a fabulist meditation on Nikola Tesla — essentially an outcast in the world he [arguably] made better, living in abject poverty in a hotel whose room he has long since stopped paying for. He meets Louisa, a snooping chambermaid with secrets and stories of her own. The narrative jumps from Louisa’s point of view, some meta-stuff, some friends, and [my favorites] Tesla’s own meditations. Charting the key points of Tesla’s life, and stuffing a lot of, well, inventiveness in the hints of magical realism, sentimentality, and low-key sci-fi, it could’ve been awesome novel.

Discarded and broken as an old dust rag in the rubble of the street, I gave over to complete breakdown, though not without first registering the last thoughts that crossed my mind just before the flood of consciousness. The first: there is tremendous potential energy in sound waves. The second: if I am to be an inventor I must never fall in love.

But I wasn’t paying attention. I liked what I found well enough, but I was too distracted: Mostly, I couldn’t get into the story. I don’t know why. I loved Tesla’s character — and thanks to The Prestige, Tesla has forever been printed onto my consciousness as David Bowie, and that is nothing but awesomesauce. I liked Louisa too, though I was aware that most of the time, she was a foil. And that no matter how compelling her own issues may have been, I liked Tesla’s issues more.

My interest kept flagging. I skimmed — looking for Tesla, really. Eventually I skipped to the end. Shrugged. The book has some good language, regardless of those easy shots [aforementioned chapter-power-endings]. But we just didn’t jive, this book and I. Maybe it was the wrong read at the wrong time. Maybe it’s just me. Le sigh. So, no, nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

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5 comments

  1. I don’t think it’s just you. My reaction to this was mostly “meh” as well. I think Hunt just tried to pack to much material into it, so it didn’t feel coherent. None of the material she packed in was bad, per se, it was just too much.

    1. That makes me feel better about this whole thing, haha. While I was reading it and feeling “Meh” too, I kept thinkg that I should be liking it. I do agree with you about the over-saturation. I wish she’d focused more on Tesla and Louisa. Louisa’s stories were too much clutter for me, haha. Then again, what I wish wasn’t the book Hunt wrote, so, well, Meh.

  2. Man, too bad that both you & Teresa were underwhelmed by this, because “a fabulist meditation on Nikola Tesla” does indeed sound full of potential. Ah well – can’t win ‘em all.

    1. I really wanted to like it. But with the Meh-ness that I felt, thankfully felt by Teresa too, that potential just fizzled. When I put it down, I figured I could read it again — now, though, I’m slowly changing my mind.

  3. […] The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt. […]

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