Monday, March 24, 2008

Samantha Hunt's "The Invention of Everything Else"

Samantha Hunt is the author of the acclaimed first novel The Seas, and her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s and on This American Life.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new novel, The Invention of Everything Else, and reported the following:
The Invention of Everything Else is a novel where the real life inventor Nikola Tesla meets the fictional chambermaid Louisa at the Hotel New Yorker in the first week of 1943 – the last week of Tesla’s life. The man who brought the world radio and AC electricity has been forgotten, living alone in a hotel room he can’t afford, talking to pigeons.

Louisa has sneaked into Mr. Tesla’s room and — as is her chambermaid wont — she’s been shuffling through his things, riffling his drawers, reading his papers. She’s just been caught perusing some sort of journal that details Tesla’s long-ago relationship with Katharine and Robert Underwood Johnson. The evidence seems to indicate to Louisa that Tesla was once in love with his best friend’s wife.

When she poses the question to Mr. Tesla on page 99 Tesla asks:

"You’ve been in love?"

"No but I can recognize it."

"Hmm." He makes his lips as thin as a blade. "No. That was not love you read. Love is impossible."

Tesla remained a bachelor his whole life. Even during the peak of his powers, when he was considered one of New York’s most eligible young men, he regarded social interactions as thieves that stole energy from his work. Tesla chose invention over love. He thought that inventors should never have wives. Still, he found companionship with a gray pigeon. Her wings were tipped with white. She was lovely and he has said that he thought of her as his wife.

On page 99 the question of love still pesters and distracts him. He’s anxious to be alone again and shows Louisa to the door. But she is wily. She inserts her foot in the jamb before he can close the door. She’s got one more question concerning a blackout that plunged the entire hotel — except for his room — into darkness the previous day.

"Sir, can I ask you, 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.
Read an excerpt from The Invention of Everything Else, and learn more about the book and its author at Samantha Hunt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue