Electric City

Written by Elizabeth Rosner
Review by Richard Bourgeois

Electric City sits near the junction of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, home to a vast manufacturing plant whose familiar cursive logo glows huge and bright over the Company headquarters. The brilliant, misshapen Charles Proteus Steinmetz came here in 1919, hired by Company founder Thomas Edison to develop magnetic and electrical technology that would change the world. Steinmetz never married, but he ‘adopted’ a local family and befriended a Mohawk named Joseph Longboat. Their lives follow paths like canoes in the river—separate, but together.

In 1965 the world has indeed changed. The Company has peaked and is declining, and the Electric City along with it. The three main characters of the story each call forth an era in the region’s history: Martin Longboat, Joseph’s grandson; Henry Van Curler, descendant of the Dutch settlers who displaced Martin’s people; and Sophie Levine, daughter of a Company man. For friends coming of age under the Company logo, their struggle with identity and place in the world mirrors that of the Electric City itself.

Being a “Company man” (and in fact writing this review within sight of that famous logo), I appreciated Rosner’s portrayal of a very familiar city. There is regret, and a little bitterness, for the shuttered businesses and the empty spaces where manufacturing buildings once stood. But there is also a great affection in this novel, for a place at once as old as lightning and as young as the latest invention. All the characters in this book—and, I suppose, this reviewer—are just molecules passing through the Electric City.