Cover image for Electric City : a novel
Electric City : a novel
Rosner, Elizabeth, author.
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Publication Information:
Berkeley : Counterpoint, [2014]
Physical Description:
324 pages ; 24 cm
Exploring the scientific contributions of Thomas Edison and Charles Proteus Steimetz in upstate New York at the confluence of the Hudson River and its tributary the Mohawk--and the fate of the same place in the mid-sixties--this is a "novel of America, of its great scientific ingenuity and its emotional ambition; one that frames the birth and evolution of its towns against the struggles of its indigenous tribes, the immigrant experience, a country divided, and the technological advancements that ushered in the modern world"
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Upstate New York, at the confluence of the great Hudson River and its mighty tributary the Mohawk --from this stunning landscape came the creation of a new world of science. In 1887, Thomas Edison moved his Edison Machine Works here and in 1892, it became the headquarters of a major manufacturing company, giving the town its nickname: Electric City.

The peak of Autumn, 1919: The pull of scientific discovery brings Charles Proteus Steimetz, a brilliant mathematician and recent arrival from Ellis Island, to town. His ability to capture lightning in a bottle earns him the title "Wizard of Electric City." Barely four feet tall with a deeply curving spine, Steinmetz's physical deformity belies his great intellect. Allied with his Mohawk friend Joseph Longboat and his adopted eleven-year-old granddaughter Midget, the advancements he makes in Electric City will, quite simply, change the world.

The peak of Autumn, 1965: Sophie Levine, the daughter of a company man, one of the many scientists working at The Company, whose electric logo can be seen from everywhere in town. Her family escaped Europe just before World War II, leaving behind a wake of annihilation and persecution. Ensconced in Electric City, Sophie is coming of age just as the town is gasping its last breaths. The town, and America as a whole, is on the cusp of great instability: blackouts, social unrest over Vietnam, and soon the advent of the seventies. Into her orbit drifts Henry Van Curler, the favored son of one of Electric City's founding Dutch families, as well as Martin Longboat, grandson of Joseph Longboat. This new generation of Electric City will face both the history of their town and their own uncertain future, struggling to bridge the gap between the old world and the new.

Electric City is a vital, pulsing, epic novel of America, of its great scientific ingenuity and its emotional ambition; one that frames the birth and evolution of its towns against the struggles of its indigenous tribes, the immigrant experience, a country divided, and the technological advancements that ushered in the modern world.

Author Notes

Elizabeth Rosner is the author of The Speed of Light , which has been translated into nine languages and was awarded the Harold U. Ribalow Prize administered by Hadassah Magazine and judged by Elie Wiesel. It was short-listed for France's Prix Femina and the recipient of the Prix France Bleu Gironde. Rosner also received the 2002 Great Lakes Colleges New Writer's Award for Fiction. Her second novel Blue Nude was named a 2006 Best Book by the San Francisco Chronicle . Her essays have been published by the New York Times Magazine, Elle , the Forward, Huffington Post , and many anthologies. She is a frequent book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Review of Books .

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Just as the convergence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers allowed Electric City to exist, so, too, do Henry Van Curler, Martin Longboat, and Sophie Levine form the nexus of the past, present, and future of this once-mighty corporate town. The scion of the area's original Dutch settlers, a descendantof the Native American assistant to one of the founders of the town's electric company, and the daughter of immigrants who fled the Holocaust, the teens develop a tentative, improbable, yet enduring friendship in the mid-1960s as the town and its globally influential power company fall on hard times. Weaving the historical narrative of real-life manufacturing wizard Charles Steinmetz with the personal dramas facing Henry, Martin, and Sophie as they confront economic devastation, the Vietnam War, and the impact both have on their private desires and ambitions, Rosner's (Blue Nude, 2006) richly imagined historical novel vividly conveys an abiding sense of time and place. A deeplyevocative paean to the wonders of science, the perils of technology, and the sacrifices of people in thrall to their power.--Haggas, Carol Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her structurally flawed multigenerational tale, Rosner (Blue Nude) explores the history of "Electric City," the New York town along the Mohawk River where Thomas Edison chose to relocate Edison Machine Works (later General Electric), his research and manufacturing enterprise "that would light up the world." The bulk of the novel alternates between two eras of the company town. The first begins in 1919 and focuses on Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a physically deformed mathematician known as the "Wizard of Electric City." Steinmetz is conducting cutting-edge research on manmade lightning generators while developing a spiritually rewarding friendship with a Native American named Joseph Longboat. The narrative then switches to the latter half of the 1960s when the company embarks on series of layoffs that harbinger Electric City's decline. We meet Sophie Levine, a high school student whose Dutch-Jewish father works for the famous company begins a romance with Henry Van Curler, the privileged son of a storied Electric City family. Sophie is also intrigued by Martin Longboat, the rebellious grandson of Joseph Longboat who is interested in Steinmetz's life and works. The novel fails to achieve a balance between the earnest but stale teenage love story and the portrait of Steinmetz, which is informative but often dramatically inert. Throughout, the writing is flooded with countless electrical metaphors, which generate thematic unity if not a particularly galvanizing tale. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



Picture the logo--you can still see it anywhere. A monogram of curling letters meant to look like someone's handwriting, adorning some appliance or other, your fridge or your stove, maybe a washing machine, a dryer. Now picture it huge, glowing neon white above the factory headquarters whose dull red facade shadowed a stretch of the Mohawk River. You could see it from the bridge, driving away from or toward downtown, with the river flowing dirty and despondent below. You could see it from all over town, and even in your dreams, hovering with incandescent power above elms and train platforms, above barns and telephone poles. Sometimes it seemed to cast a particular glow onto the mossy brick of the campus residence halls, the stately ones bearing plaques engraved with the Van Curler name. And sometimes it left an eerie sheen on the gravestones in the Vale Cemetery, that place where the living and the dead still meet. In a company town, everything wore The Company insignia. "Live better electrically!" the slogan said. Everyone believed it. Excerpted from Electric City by Elizabeth Rosner All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.