Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: "Big Machine" by Victor LaValle

Simply put, reading Victor LaValle’s imaginative novel Big Machine has been one of the most pleasant literary journeys I have taken this year, and it will be a hard act to follow. Reading through it I couldn’t help but be reminded of the times I first read Haruki Murakami, some of the best books by Stephen King and even recent authors like James Hannaham and James Renner. It perfectly balances many different genres of writing, beginning with the dreary world of our wonderful narrator, and slowly but surely, and with the upmost confidence, sliding down this strange rabbit hole of secret societies, ancient voices and the possible end of the world. And like most stories like this, the otherworldly elements hide deep real world meanings of the rough road to redemption, the weight of responsibility and the strange, often tenuous connections we make when we are at our lowest and someone, or in this case, something reaches out from the aether and offers us a hand. Ricky Rice, are delightful, if not always smart narrator is a porter at a New York bus stop, when he receives a piece of mail (of which he drops accidently onto the disgusting floor of the bathroom he is cleaning) that contains a bus ticket to Vermont and a note reminding him of a promise he made in Cedar Rapids Iowa in 2002. He doesn’t so much like the job he has, but it does offer him a fresh sense of stability, and when you learn about his past as the only survivor of a religious cult run by three morally ambiguous sisters and what made him make that promise in 2002, you will know why. He reluctantly takes the trip to Vermont, and finds when he gets there a series of cabins a large library, as well as a group of seven other people, all of which share two things in common: all of them are former addicts at one time, and all three heard “the voice” when they were at their lowest points. Run by a raisin-like short tempered diminutive man everyone calls “the Dean”, and Lake, his seven foot opposite, Ricky learns the origin of the voice, and the importance of his new mission, which involves flying out to California, and killing a dissident member of the group. The book’s weirdness factor is through the roof, but LaValle keeps everything grounded with down to earth emotional core that never falters even when you think it might. I’d compare it easily to Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, with the Vermont cabin, and the tunnels Ricky and Adele, his partner sent with him find both being inspired by that novel’s intertwining narratives, as well as the true horror of those tunnels reminding me not so suitably of the  sewers in Stephen King’s It. But ultimately this is a book of hope, squeezed out of the worst kinds of situations, or bitten away by bobcats that may or may not be there, and how strange and beautiful our world can be when we take full notice of it.  
Rating: 5/5

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