"The Lightning Keeper" is a sweeping epic novel of ambition, love and enterprise in America. It is the story of an unlikely Romeo and Juliet romance at the dawn of the electric age, with the nation balancing on the brink of world war and a scientific revolution. In 1914, Toma Pekocevic is a penniless immigrant in New York, recently escaped from the bloody politics of the Balkans that have claimed most of his family. Also a gifted inventor, he designs a revolutionary water turbine while working with Harriet Bigelow, scion of a proud Connecticut iron-making dynasty now fallen on hard times. Their attraction is immediate and overwhelming, but every circumstance is against them. Toma is eventually drawn inside the industrial empire of General Electric, his machine an essential cog in its grand scheme to provide electricity to the entire country. After he loses Harriet to a wealthy politician, his invention is all he has - but Toma is determined to win her back. The stage is set for a confrontation that could change not only his life but the course of scientific progress.
Deeply evocative and utterly engrossing, "The Lightning Keeper" is a rich tapestry of technology, romance and war - an unforgettable and distinctly American saga that establishes Starling Lawrence as one of the most talented writers at work today.
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(198mm x 126mm x 33mm)
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
Ponderous second novel by veteran publishing exec Lawrence juxtaposes the fitful advance of early-20th-century American technology with the characters' stalled romantic aspirations. It's love at first sight for Harriet and Toma when they meet briefly in Naples in 1908. She's a 14-year-old upper-crust Yankee on vacation; he's a 16-year-old Serb whose full backstory can be found in Montenegro (1997). Six years later, Harriet keeps the books at her family's ironworks in Connecticut. Visiting New York with her deaf father to secure a contract to make wheels for subway cars, she discovers Toma serving as top assistant to the cars' manufacturer. Sent by his boss to stay at the ironworks while they "smooth out" the production process, Toma meets Horatio, a canny black man who operates the giant water wheel, and Olivia, Horatio's "wife" since she turned 12. A horrifying accident kills Horatio, cripples the wheel and dooms both contract and ironworks; on the plus side, it inspires Toma to invent a metal wheel, a big leap forward. He winds up in bed with Olivia, who falls in love with him. Toma still pines for Harriet, but accepts fatalistically her marriage to local banker and U.S. Senator Fowler Truscott. Why would a 53-year-old bachelor enter a marriage he does not consummate? Why is it so hard for the spirited Harriet to "balance the claims" of her two suitors? And why doesn't Toma fight for his dream woman? There are serious fault lines here. The author is on more solid ground with Toma's invention of a turbine and the entrance of two historical figures: Coffin, chairman of General Electric, and Steinmetz, the electrical engineering genius who foresees a national grid protected by lightning-arrestors. Toma, by now on GE's payroll, becomes the great man's "lightning keeper." This at least is a coherent storyline, unlike the endless yearnings of Harriet and Toma, who worships the Senator's wife unavailingly and abandons poor Olivia like roadkill. Machines supply the light here; the people are dim indeed. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Starling Lawrence
Starling Lawrence is the author of the novels The Lightning Keeper and Montenegro and a collection of stories, Legacies. He is the editor in chief and vice chairman of W.W. Norton. He lives in New York City and north-western Connecticut.