Nikola Tesla was a complicated, enigmatic man who continues to pique our collective curiosity. Although he transformed the modern world with contributions like alternating current and wireless energy transfer, he died destitute and unappreciated. In The Invention of Everything Else, Samantha Hunt seems to fully recognize Tesla’s value, making him the novel’s star and honored guest. Most biographical accounts indicate that Tesla was on the anti-social side, but Hunt successfully transforms his aloof character into a structural adhesive, situating him as the force that keeps the novel’s disparate elements from spiraling into separate and distinct orbits.
The Invention of Everything Else opens in 1943, the year of Tesla’s death. He lives as a forgotten recluse in room 3327 in The Hotel New Yorker and spends his time tending to his beloved pigeons and contemplating the past. Hunt channels Tesla’s profound alienation in one of the novel’s strongest passages: “I’ve been forgotten here, left all alone talking to lightning storms, studying the mysterious patterns the dust of dead people makes as it floats through the last light of day.”
Tesla’s isolation is disrupted by a young woman who also loves pigeons and shares his admiration for the intangible. Louisa, who works at the hotel as a housekeeper, is very inquisitive and bright. Rather than merely cleaning rooms and moving on, she ritualistically rifles through the hotel guests’ belongings in order to piece together an impression of their lives and personalities. It is this irrepressible curiosity that eventually brings her face to face with the ultimate human puzzle: Nikola Tesla.
As their unorthodox relationship blooms into friendship, Louisa finds out more about Tesla’s theories, loves, and failures. These revelations change her perspective, while also giving her new insights into her father’s obsession with traveling back in time to catch a glimpse of his late wife, Freddie.
There are many things to like about The Invention of Everything Else. For me, however, the most rewarding aspect was the way Hunt offers the reader a compelling realization of Tesla. Her characterization resonates with historical accounts, while also bringing depth and complexity to a profoundly inscrutable figure. Throughout the novel, Hunt’s prose is crisp and poetic. I found myself re-reading many of the passages over again, just to absorb more of her beautiful, moving language.
The fact that Hunt utilizes her elegant writing style to illuminate rich interior lives makes The Invention of Everything Else even more unique. It is a mesmerizing novel that gracefully explores the themes of transcendence, loss, and the shared quest for temporal belonging.