Picks and Pans Review: Loving Little Egypt

updated 03/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Thomas McMahon

This inventive novel treats a few years of America's scientific-industrial history as the stuff of comic opera. The villains are an obstinate Thomas Edison and the telephone company. The hero is Mourly Void, a near-blind genius, who learns early how to tap into phones. He runs away from a school for the blind and is befriended by Alexander Graham Bell, a lovable eccentric, and his deaf wife, Mabel. All sorts of famous people pop up in this fanciful fiction. A young J. Edgar Hoover believes that the "brains of the Communists could have been infected by diseases from outer space." After meeting Helen Keller, Bell decides that "perhaps every human interior, if it could only be left unspoiled, was passionately involved with science." Void, nicknamed Little Egypt, has incredible adventures, fueled mostly by his determination to force the telephone company to protect itself against vandals as brilliant as he is. One of his helpers is Edison's drunkard son, Sparky. The author of this charming fantasy, a biology professor at Harvard, has written two other novels, McKay's Bees and Principles of American Nuclear Chemistry: A Novel. This book is full of strange information about electricity and physics. Much of it sounds fanciful, but then again, it all could be true, in this exuberant context, not even the most scientifically sophisticated reader will care. (Viking, $16.95)

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