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Book Review: Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else

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Kind of like a dream of a roller-coaster ride, Hunt's novel is a surreal mishmash that somehow still manages to be thrilling. Set in early-1943 New York City, it's the story of Louisa, a young chambermaid at the Hotel New Yorker, who befriends one of the hotel's permanent "guests," Nikola Tesla.

Quickie history lesson: The famously eccentric genius/scientist Tesla, who did live at the hotel in question, invented radio, alternating current, X-rays, fluorescent lighting, radar, and lots more, but was essentially ripped off by Edison, Marconi and others. At the time of this novel, Tesla is 86 years old and nearly forgotten, but still sensitive and wildly creative, and wondering what kind of world would make heroes of men who stole his ideas and leave him nearly destitute. Louisa, meanwhile, becomes entangled in her father's plans to travel back in time to reunite with his dead wife, a plan in which he's assisted by Louisa's boyfriend, a compelling character who seems to have come from the future.

Hunt manages to weave these disparate threads into a coherent, even charming narrative, aided by her loving, detailed portraits of New York life in the '40s, and her gift for beautiful phrasing. In the end, Hunt's novel is a tribute to invention and imagination, and a paean to an era when scientists and artists dared to dream big.

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