cover image Lightning


Jean Echenoz, trans. from the French by Linda Coverdale. New Press, $19.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-59558-649-0

The affecting story of a difficult and misunderstood European visionary on American shores comprises this lyrical, slender novel by Prix Goncourt%E2%80%93winner Echenoz (Running). Born during a lightning storm "somewhere in southeastern Europe" in the mid-19th century, Gregor has many wonderfully inventive ideas from an early age%E2%80%94a rapid mail tube running under the Atlantic Ocean, harnessing the power of Niagara Falls for energy%E2%80%94and soon the bright young engineer lands in America, where he ends up working with Thomas Edison, who is less than convinced by Gregor's ideas about alternating current. George Westinghouse, however, is intrigued, and as AC becomes the electrical standard, everybody gets rich, even Gregor, for a while. However, with each succeeding electrical marvel, described by an admiring omniscient narrator who admits to being "mystified" by science, Gregor is increasingly dismissed as a crackpot, and other less than scrupulous inventors make off with his world-altering inventions. Echenoz constructs a sympathetic, stylized portrait of an isolated genius stricken by obsessive compulsiveness, a friend only to pigeons at the end. (June)