“Big Machine” by Victor LaValle

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.

6 Responses to ““Big Machine” by Victor LaValle”

  1. Amy Says:

    Hmm…perhaps you could bring it along if we have coffee week after next??

  2. girldetective Says:

    Amy, can do. Let me know if you want it earlier, and I can send it but it’s the last of the first round, so isn’t reviewed till 3/17.

  3. Kate Says:

    YES! I completely had that thought about The Intuitionist! I also had flashes of The Raw Shark Texts. But speaking of The Intuitionist, I don’t know if you happened to read the article in the New Yorker a few issues back about NYC investigations into its city inspectors? The best line was this: “(Elevator inspectors were a close-knit group, suspicious of outsiders and unusually difficult to infiltrate-that case took years.)” I think I might need to reread the Intuitionist at some point soon.

    But as for Big Machine, I’m so glad you enjoyed it–I also purchased it and don’t regret it at all. It was so strange, but so good. I had a very similar reaction to yours.

  4. girldetective Says:

    Kate, I’m glad you chimed it because I was wondering if you felt similarly! We are indeed kindred reading spirits. One of my book groups is going to discuss it in the coming months, and I think it’ll make for a fab discussion–lots of stuff to ruminate on. Also interesting that you liked it in spite of the brutal stuff, given your yen for happier reading of late.

  5. Amy Says:

    The next coffee meeting would be fine. It’s not as if I don’t have anything else to read!! Lowboy just landed at the library, and I haven’t cracked the cover of Wolf Hall yet either.

  6. Kate Says:

    Indeed! I’m sure you know which parts I could barely get through, but the magical realism of it helped me gain some distance.