Big Machine by Victor LaValle is one of those sleeper contenders in The Morning News 2010 Tournament of Books. Good reviews, but very few copies in my library system, and a huge queue. Lured with a coupon, I bought a copy. And don’t regret it one jot.
Don’t look for dignity in public bathrooms. The most you’ll find is privacy and sticky floors. But when my boss gave me the glossy envelope, the bathroom was the first place I ran. What can I say? Lurking in toilets was my job.
Ricky Ray is a bus-station janitor in upstate New York when he receives an envelope that moves his life in a new direction. He’s been a junkie, a thief, even part of a cult, but none of these have prepared him for the strangeness he’s about to encounter when he’s invited to a place called The Washburn Library.
The details of this book are so lovely and strange I don’t want to spoil them. This is a surprising book that includes elements of horror, spirituality, mystery, even a kind of coming-of-age. The central characters are all black, and the story’s blend of mystical realism reminded me, in a good way, of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist. It is by turns funny, tragic, horrifying, and wondrous. Throughout, though, it made me want to turn its pages. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it, or wanting to get back to reading it. This book, like Lowboy, is one I probably wouldn’t have discovered or sought out on my own, if not for the ToB. But I’m very glad to have made its acquaintance.