Novel: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson | Goodreads
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Divided by time. Ignited by a spark.
Kansas, 2065. Adri has secured a slot as a Colonist—one of the lucky few handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house over a hundred years ago, and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate. While Adri knows she must focus on the mission ahead, she becomes captivated by a life that’s been lost in time…and how it might be inextricably tied to her own.
Oklahoma, 1934. Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine fantasizes about her family’s farmhand, and longs for the immortality promised by a professor at a traveling show called the Electric. But as her family’s situation becomes more dire—and the suffocating dust threatens her sister’s life—Catherine must find the courage to sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most.
England, 1919. In the recovery following the First World War, Lenore struggles with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America in pursuit of a childhood friend. But even if she makes it that far, will her friend be the person she remembers, and the one who can bring her back to herself?
While their stories spans thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri’s fates are entwined.
Midnight at the Electric wasn’t what I’d expected, which was actually a lovely thing. What I loved so much about Tiger Lily, Anderson’s previous (in combination with a slew of other attributes) is how much atmosphere it has. It’s warm, sad, and lingering. Midnight at the Electric, on the other hand, is colder, still sad, and yet sharper. There’s a much more abrupt nature to it, that speaks to its own tune. Still, the contradictory nature of each of Anderson’s defining characteristics keeps her writing fresh.
With that being said, I will say it was difficult to go into Midnight at the Electric because of how high my expectations were set. I kept comparing it to Tiger Lily, which I didn’t intend to do; Tiger Lily was much more my type of story, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one.
This book is slow. It’s compelling, despite that. It’s more of a coming-of-age than anything else, although of whose or what the conclusion is, I’m not sure I can label. It reminds me a lot of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, which happens to be one of my favorite books, in terms of emotional arcs.
Normally, when I read a book that jumps around between time periods, it focuses on the future and the present, or the present and the past. Not the past, present, and future. The conglomeration of these three sections of time illuminated themes and lines that struck me. The book focuses on a few different storylines, with one aspect connecting each of them: a tortoise.
At first, it’s not obvious why we’re made privy to each of these.
Adri, an unlikable engineer preparing to go to Mars with the rest of a crop of “elite.” On an increasingly failing Earth, they’re promised that they can make Mars livable for the rest of humanity — and primed to know what exactly they’re leaving behind. Adri seems like a perfect pick. She’s alone and brilliant. But she’s snappy towards those around her, except for the elderly woman she lives with, Lily. Adri wasn’t the nicest to her either, but they still forged an unlikely and fumbling friendship. (For the record, that was one of the relationships I loved to read about most — forgiveness and not one of total compatibility.)
Catherine lived during the Dust Bowl, in 1930s Oklahoma. Snaps for more obscure settings and time periods! Anderson captured the flecks of grimness.
I loved Catherine’s naïvety of hope, although sometimes I was frustrated with the way she handled things. The bleakness of the atmosphere was stunning, and really gutted me. I hated reading it, which is why I loved the way it was put together. Her story is where the “Midnight at the Electric” originates, although it’s not hugely relevant to the story; rather, it’s a symbol. I wasn’t entirely sure how her sister played such a role in her life — that piece of it felt less compelling to me because of how scattered it was — but the slow burn of the romance and the complexity of her family drew me in.
Lenore, meanwhile, was reckless. She reminded me so much of the narrator from Code Name Verity: witty in the face of adversity. Her friendship with James was complicated, to say the least, and I loved how much she flitted from idea to idea. She was perhaps the most relatable of the bunch.
With that being said, I’m not sure the characters are a huge draw within the novel. I connected to ideas they had and lines they said, but not the characters themselves. They’re all whimsical and stubborn, and layer into each other nicely. Plenty of gloomy reflections that burdened me, but didn’t put me in a dark place.
So what was the draw then: the writing? Perhaps. There were some startlingly relevant passages, woven within a plainspoken (but lovely) narrative. I tend to really like literary risks, and this book fits it to a tee. This is the one line that floored me:
“Her faith never changes, while mine does all the time – blinking out at times, flaring up at others. For the moment, I think maybe there is a God but a different one than she says. I think God might be the dust and the jackrabbits and the rain, that God might be Teddy and the bullet that killed him, the beautiful and exquisite moon and the terrible zeppelins, all spread out and everywhere. I’ve begun to think that maybe we are God’s fingers rubbing against each other to see how it feels. Do you think that is a sacrilegious thought – that God might be everything and its opposite?”
The book itself is raw and quiet and poignant, with a little bit of an underbelly. It’s the type of book I would strongly dislike if one or two things have been botched — but it’s done well enough for me to like. It deals with grieving for people you never knew, situations you are powerless to change. Some characters had spirit that flared out beyond the rest — like Lily, with her young spirit and tenderness.
Believe it or not, it’s a pretty quick read. The scenes are short; the world-building is sparse. Details chosen though are ones that expand to fill the book itself.
I wouldn’t say that any given aspect — the plot, the characters, or the writing — were particularly striking to me. There’s no good way for me to say that without making it sound like a negative thing, and it’s not. In this case, I enjoyed this book because it was different and well-written. It took a risk, and it paid off. I appreciated it, which is a more nuanced sensation.
If that’s enough for you, well, I think it’s worth the read.