Big Machine

Big MachineI seek exquisite, heralding, concise, quantum, stealth stories reality fiction to coin my phrase Plotting and sub plotting needs to jettison me into outer space and plummet me into hell I won t be bothered with menial, mundane situations and tongue wagging dialog Dull and tedious characters kill the story and bury my interest Am I asking too much from a writer Hell no Time is precious and words manipulate.Accost me with exhilarating and electrifying characters You say that s too difficult Then you shouldn t write Thrill me with stupefying and invigorating plotting Not possible for you Don t write at all Accost me and thrill me and I ll follow every word you write, every scintillating character you create and every brilliant plot you throw at me Please, just dazzle me and I ll be your devotee.As for the Big Machine, none of the above took place for me I have nothing against Victor LaValle, the author, I m sure he s a fine individual I just felt the Big Machine failed with its wordiness, silly unstimulated characters and plotting run a muckPlease, thrill and delight me with skill and proficiency in your novel. Victor Lavelle s Big Machine leaves me grasping for comparisons I m reminded of Chicago s Reckless Records Years back someone working at the store started stickering new releases with commentary like a mix of Throbbing Gristle and Teenage Fanclub with some early Yes influence I never had any idea of what those stickers meant, honestly, but they became a Reckless tradition that still, to my knowledge, exists today I don t know I haven t been to Reckless in a good six months.Anyway, Big Machine is a wild novel by a young from his jacket pic, anyway author with great talent and promise Victor LaValle writes like he s on the subway and he s got to get down a great story before the train arrives at his stop Big Machine is about an ex heroin addict who finds a cryptic invitation to an empty library in rural Vermont He d blow off the invitation but the letter references an event in his past of which no one else should know and his existence as a bus station janitor isn t much to leave behind Over the next year he encounters modern prophets, swamp ghosts, unlikely scholars, and questions of faith, doubt, and the presence of good and evil in the world His childhood in an NYC tenement cult haunts him on his travels and becomes part of an alternate plotline connecting his past with the present.I would say I ve never read anything like this, but I m going to pull a Reckless and say LaVelle reads like a black Murakami someone on the cover blurbs references Murakami as well mixed with Vonnegut, Boogie Down Productions, and A Tribe Called Quest Strands of magical realism meld well with flophouse hotels and the stench of desperation combined with an invisible hope Ok, Big Machine could probably use a tighter edit but the last fifty pages kept me up way later than I wanted to be in the middle of the week because I wasn t going to leave the finish for the next day LaVelle writes courageously and with the passion of a former nerdy kid who refuses to write a bad book I m looking forward to his next one.edit I just read the GR blurb for this book and they mention both Murakami and the faith doubt thing I swear to God I didn t read that first I swear. Horror fiction at its best is in the business of pushing back the barriers, or risking the absurd in order to reach the sublime Ramsey Campbell from the foreword of Alan Moore s SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING, book 1 I need to go back and amend my top 10 books of 2009 list and put Victor LaValle s amazing and brilliant BIG MACHINE at number one I mean, compare BIG MACHINE to the pile of steaming mediocrity of some of the big books big media hype, buzz, and buzz I ve been reading lately which feature lazy writing, slapdash characters, and well, before I get sidetracked complaining about the overhyped and the supremely mediocre, let me lavish big love on Victor s book.Some plot stuff Ricky Rice is a middle aged heroin addict and janitor at a bus station One particularly disgusting morning he receives a mysterious letter with a bus ticket and the message You made promise in Cedar Rapids in 2002 Time to honor it Ricky goes, the bus drops in him the wilds of Vermont where he s taken to a remote compound of cottages and a main library building There are other addicts and criminals there too The comprise the unlikely scholars A group of rag tag paranormal investigators, searching for evidence or record of The Voice in daily newspapers The Voice may or may not be divine The Voice may or may not be something to be feared.From there, cross country craziness ensues, with cults, serial killers, terrorist bombings, monsters or are they , creepy sewers and tunnels, and genuinely funny, smart, and human characters and dialogue.Victor revels and rolls around in so many of the 80s big horror tropes and cliches, but he does it so smartly and effectively, with plot twists and characters pasts overlapping, intertwining, and muddying both perception and reality Victor is brave and audacious enough to push toward the absurd, and then go sprinting right past it There are scenes in this book that literally made me say, No way, out loud I never do that.The result is this wonderfully weird, funny, and genuinely creepy book It s about all our lives, the irrational hope of a voice and a plan being there to listen to and to guide us, and the fear that if we could actually listen to it and understand it, it still would sound like the white noise of our everyday existence cruel and totally insane, but still, somehow, a little bit wonderful.Victor gets bonus geek points from me for quoting from Carpenter s The Thing in his epigraph and then thanking Bad Brains, Shirley Jackson, T E D Klein, Stephen King, and Ambrose Bierce in the acknowledgments. If you had a really important job that you needed done, a critical mission that the entire fate of your life s work depended on, would you send a 40 year old ex heroin junkie with a bad leg out to take care of it No Neither would I Ricky Rice might have saved himself some serious trouble if he simply asked, Why me As a child Ricky s family had been part of a cult led by three women in Queens, and he later grew up to be an addict Now clean he has been working as a janitor in a bus station when gets a letter referencing an event from his past and a bus ticket to Vermont When Ricky gets there he finds that he has been recruited to the Washburn Library to be one of their Unlikely Scholars.The Library is isolated in a rural area, and each of the new Unlikely Scholars gets their own cabin stocked with groceries and a new, if slightly dated, wardrobe They are all black men and women with shady backgrounds of one kind or another that hit rock bottom at some point in their lives Their new job is to go through newspapers, looking for odd stories that indicate some kind of supernatural happenings and reporting them to the Dean Grateful for the new life, Ricky dedicates himself to the work, even if he doesn t really understand why they re doing it Of course, like most former addicts, he still has a desire to shoot up some of the old smackity smack and has some heroin hidden in his cabin Eventually, The Dean explains the history and purpose of the Library and sends Ricky out on a critical mission to stop a former Unlikely Scholar who has gone rogue.Victor LaValle was nominated for a PEN Faulkner award for his previous novel so what we have here is a serious writer of capital L Literature doing a sci fi supernatural genre novel, and the results are mixed.I loved the overall concept of the novel, and LaValle is a very good writer However, he chose to tell the story as a combo of Ricky s present and flashbacks to his history as a child in a cult and as a junkie If done well, this can be used to deliver big twists late in the book as a character s current behavior and circumstances are explained via big reveals in their pasts.However, by keeping the circumstances and mission of even the Library vague until we re well into the book, and by having Ricky be a clueless bystander who is just going along with everything, we don t really know the stakes or the full scope of what s going on until we re well into the action That s the problem with doing a story like this and withholding information until later If we don t know what the ground rules are, how can we be shocked or surprised at what follows The whole thing seemed kind of like something that would happen if Chuck Palahniuk wrote up a story idea from Neil Gaimen Good idea and some solid writing here, but saving the big reveals until very late in the book kept me uninvolved and puzzled by the plot.Random Thoughts I liked that the Washburn Library has resources, but they aren t infinite Their computers are refurbished, office supplies are in short supply, and they have to use the bus or fly coach, etc It added a different twist on the idea we usually get when some kind of mysterious large organization is introduced It seemed odd that even though the story is set around 2005, that the Unlikely Scholars use print newspapers and never even mention Google in their work They re supposed to have a tight budget, but considering how little reporting is done on minor local stories by print journalism these days, and the cost of newspaper subscriptions, you d think it d be cheaper and efficient for them to troll the net for news Despite all evil crap that happens, living in a remote fully stocked cabin next to a large library while trolling news for odd stories seems like a dream job to me I got a good chuckle when one character refers to the Unlikely Scholars as spiritual X Men. This is one of those books that cries orphan and so leads reviewers to cast about for possible ancestries The back cover of the book itself sports three Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed with Edgar Allan Poe, but than that, writes critic Mos Def If the literary gods mixed together Haruki Murakami and Ralph Ellison the result would be Big Machine, says Anthony Doerr If Hieronymous Bosch and Lenny Bruce got knocked up by a woman with a large and compassionate heart, they might have brought forth Big Machine, is the opinion of Amy Bloom.A piece in the The Nation magazine offers yet another improbable genealogy If Thomas Paine and Stephen King had collaborated across time on a novel, they might well have produced this book John Nichols.I couldn t really get further than halfway through, myself it was intriguing but just didn t really hold my attention But in the spirit of the reviews I ve just quoted, here are a few suggested lineages 1 A materialist slapstick of the aetherial realm produced, who knows how, by Emanuel Swedenborg and the Marx Brothers Groucho and Karl.2 If Mme Blavatsky has made herself present to James Ellroy in a seance, with an assist from Caspar the Friendly Ghost, this book is what the ouija board would have spelled out.3 If you came across a palimpsest on which Zora Neale Hurston had over written a variant of the canonical text of Dionysius the Pseudo Aereopagyte s Celestial Hierarchies, Big Machine would have been what you picked out laboriously, one letter at a time.4 If the National Inquirer had paid Cornell West to make a hip hop adaptation of Moby Dick, Big Machine would have been the story behind the headline This Book Turned My Son Into an Olive 5 If Max Miller, the cheeky chappy, had encountered Iris Murdoch on a narrow bridge, and hadn t known whether to block her passage or toss himself off, their conversation would have been this book.I hereby invite further speculations as to the conception of Big Machine. Victor LaValle is a terrific writer He plays with emotions, can make you laugh in one paragraph and sad in the next, and then laugh again a few sentences later The writing isn t the issue I had with this book It s the voice I read LaValle s The Ecstatic months ago While reading Big Machine, I noticed that both main characters, while different people, had the same voice I m starting to believe that LaValle only has the one voice slightly sarcastic, self deprecating, relatable low life He nails that voice, but I would have much rather read about a different kind of character.What saves Big Machine is the wacky storyline I had no idea where LaValle was going to take me after those first 100 pages But, I must say, getting through those first 100 was a goddamn slog I read the book from September 11 to October 21 It took me until October 18 to get past the first 100 pages Over a month to read a fourth of the book Not cool I almost didn t finish it because I was bored But something told me to stay with it In the end, I didn t regret the journey, only the outset I dug the idea and execution of the Devils of the Marsh They were creepy and imposing and I d never seen anything like them When I run into a new monster or entity that I dig, I usually want of them But, here, I found that LaValle used them just enough for my liking Another thing I ll mention is the inclusion of both a supernatural and human villain This is horror 101, but a lot of horror authors ignore it Your horror would be so much better, fellow scribes, if you included a human element to your fiction Stephen King is terrific at this Henry Bowers in It, Jack Torrence in The Shining, and Margaret White in Carrie Your human villain will be even terrifying if you can make them relatable in some way In this book, Soloman Clay is balanced well with the Devils of the Marsh, but he s not the only villain In fact, I don t think there s a good person in the entire book Only lesser evils After the first 100 pages, the book jumps back and forth from Ricky Rice s past to the present I think I liked the flashbacks than I did the present stuff That is until the end The bit on the pier was exceptionally well written I saw every detail of that scene What a way to close out the main storyline In summation I would ve liked this book far without the first 100 page slog The rehashed voice from The Ecstatic was a letdown, as well, but I think that s just LaValle s voice in general I ll simply have to space out his reads He s definitely not someone I can read back to back Recommended to fans of literary fiction that leans toward horror.Final Judgment You have a collect call from, Hadababyitsaboy. Essentially you either get magical realism or you don t I am the latter So, I didn t really get this book But the writing is so good and the protagonist is so amazingly written and realized, that I didn t entirely mind Ricky Rice s back story was so interesting it would have made a fabulous book on its own Instead, he is dropped into a really strange but utterly original story about a mysterious research organization staffed by former junkies and criminals that are looking for messages from God Maybe The story gets weirder until you finally realize the end is not going to be able to wrap things up to your satisfaction if you are looking for any kind of logical conclusion Specifically, when I read what really happened to Ricky in Cedar Rapids that changed his life, I knew the end couldn t possibly make sense but I liked the writing so much I plowed ahead The last 30 pages well, you ll either get it and probably love it or you ll just be completely befuddled I give LaValle props for at least trying to give the story some kind of satisfactory conclusion instead of ending with the equivalent of..and it was a big old freaky mess of nonsense The end I would like to give Lavalle another whirl as a writer someday But he d have to abandon magical symbolic tropes for that to happen His writing, pathos and characters are what kept me reading this story. I actually quite enjoyed this one above all, LaValle has a unique voice, his work is original thank you , and he is one of my favorite storytellers The man gets his points across, with serious things to say wrapped up a rather convoluted tale, and his work is definitely worth reading In chapter three of this book, there is a bus passenger who is three quarters bum standing in the aisle yelling at his fellow passengers, telling them that there s a fight going on in the country a fight about faith, people Faith and belief Before he gets booted off this bus, he has one final thing to say which is this To be an American is to be a believer But y all don t even understand what you believe in This one line sets up one of the most offbeat but finest novels I ve read this year Plot, etc with no spoilers can be found at my reading journal otherwise, just continue on What starts out sounding like a sort of Dan Brownish kind of story premise quickly moves into, as one of the book cover blurbs says, a mind rattling mystery about doubt, faith, and the monsters we carry within us, and this story with its somewhat crazy premise gets serious really quickly Reading through, there is a LOT going on here as among other things, LaValle looks at class, race, religion and the institutions that often fail those who depend on them the most It is a very human story, and as one reader put it, it s a book that makes outcasts its heroes, and reminds us how powerful it can be to get a helping hand I think that maybe the author is also saying that doubt isn t always a bad thing while it may be the Big Machine that grinds up the delusions of men and women, it can also serve as an antidote to our penchant for blindly placing our faith in something without questioning, rather than believing in ourselves or reaching out to others Big Machine, despite its rather strange but on the other hand optimistic ending, is a gorgeous novel and the bottom line is I loved it It may not be for everyone, and that s okay, but there was something about this book that really tugged at my insides, making it a good one for me. For the first 200 or so pages, Big Machine was my favorite book of the year It s smart, it s really fucking funny, the world I was pulled into was fascinating and weird and utterly believable, even as it was absurd and playful And I loved the narrator Ricky Rice is probably one of the best voices to come out of literature in the lastoh, ever probably The prose here is stunning, smart, beautiful, and funny in the way that I want it to be This guy was no bigger than a bunion 32 Taking heroin is like sinking into a tapioca hammock 64 Seeing America by bus is like touring the Louvre in a Porta Potti 250 She couldn t have been older than me Thirty eight or thirty nine And her thighs were so thick that she wobbled when she walked Now, let me say that I don t mean this an insult In fact, I mean it as the highest compliment She was shaped like a bowling pin The kind of figure that makes a man like me feel vigorous And if I hadn t seen her at the Washburn Library, I would ve asked that thick little woman on a date 56.And what I love about this book is that it s still very sad, too, and the emotions are raw Many terrible things happen, and the action doesn t exclude meditation or reflection or lyricism Alas, I must give Big Machine 4 and not 5 stars because I didn t love the direction it took in the last quarter I wasn t into the turn to the supernatural Really, I could ve stayed in the Washburn Library the whole time and taken the cult history and the feral cats along with me The final hijinks were just too nutty for me I will say, however, that I admired that LaValle went wild with this novel He just did what he wanted to He s a brave writer, this guy. Ricky Rice Is A Middle Aged Hustler With A Lingering Junk Habit, A Bum Knee, And A Haunted Mind The Sole Survivor Of A Suicide Cult, He Spends His Days Scraping By As A Porter At A Bus Depot In Utica, New York Until One Day A Letter Arrives, Reminding Him Of A Vow He Once Made And Summoning Him To Vermont S Remote Northeast Kingdom To Fulfill ItThere, Ricky Is Inducted Into A Band Of Paranormal Investigators Comprised Of Former Addicts And Petty Criminals, All Of Whom Have At Some Point In Their Wasted Lives Heard The Voice A Murmur On The Wind, A Disembodied Shout, A Whisper In An Empty Room All These May Or May Not Have Been Messages From God Their Mission Is To Find The Voice And Figure Out What It WantsBig Machine Takes Us From Ricky S Childhood In A Matrilineal Cult Housed In A New York City Tenement To His Near Death Experience In The Basement Of An Iowa House Owned By A Man Named Murder And To His Final Confrontation With An Army Of True Believers And With His Own Past

Victor LaValle is the author of the short story collection Slapboxing with Jesus, four novels, The Ecstatic, Big Machine, The Devil in Silver, and The Changeling and two novellas, Lucretia and the Kroons and The Ballad of Black Tom He is also the creator and writer of a comic book Victor LaValle s DESTROYER.He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Whiting Writers Award, a United

[Reading] ➷ Big Machine Author Victor LaValle –
  • Kindle Edition
  • 387 pages
  • Big Machine
  • Victor LaValle
  • English
  • 02 September 2019

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