A fiendishly imaginative comic novel about doubt, faith, and the monsters we carry within us.
Ricky Rice was as good as invisible: a middling hustler, recovering dope fiend, and traumatized cult survivor running out the string of his life as a porter at a bus depot in Utica, New York. Until one day a letter appears, summoning him to the frozen woods of Vermont. There, Ricky is inducted into a band of paranormal investigators comprised of former addicts and petty criminals, all of whom had at some point in their wasted lives heard The Voice: a mysterious murmur on the wind, a disembodied shout, or a whisper in an empty room that may or may not be from God.
Evoking the disorienting wonder of writers like Haruki Murakami and Kevin Brockmeier, but driven by Victor LaValles perfectly pitched comic sensibility Big Machine is a mind-rattling literary adventure about sex, race, and the eternal struggle between faith and doubt.
Dont look for dignity in public bathrooms. The most youll 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.
I was a janitor at Union Station in Utica, New York. Specifically contracted through Trailways to keep their little ticket booth and nearby bathroom clean. Id done the same job in other upstate towns, places so small their whole bus stations couldve fit inside Union Stations marbled hall. A year in Kingston, six months in Elmira. Then Troy. Quit one and find the next. Sometimes I told them I was leaving, other times I just disappeared.
When I got the envelope, I went to the bathroom and shut the door. I couldnt lock it from the inside so I did the next best thing and pulled my cleaning cart in front of the door to block the way. My boss was a woman, but if the floors in front of the Trailways booth werent ...
While Big Machine contains encounters with the sorts of angels and demons that skeptical readers might think belong more in a Dan Brown thriller than a literary novel, these supernatural elements expertly rub shoulders with realistic depictions of childhood fears, drug addiction, and the ramifications of religious faith. Indeed, the extraordinary and the ordinary intertwine so successfully that it’s impossible to imagine the book stripped of either; this isn’t a realist novel overlaid with the paranormal, nor is it a fantasy that occasionally interjects glimpses of reality. Anchoring all these big subjects is the voice of Ricky, a tough, honest, funny, and likeable narrator who has made many mistakes in his life but in whom readers can trust and become fully invested.
(Reviewed by Marnie Colton).
Full Review (1086 words).
Parapsychology vs. Skepticism
While the Washburn Library is a purely fictional invention, it does have an analog in the real world: the Rhine Research Center, once known as the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, and home to the Institute for Parapsychology until 2002. Formerly affiliated with Duke University, the Rhine now operates independently a short distance away from the campus and continues to conduct research into consciousness, specifically, those aspects that for many years have resisted scientific explanation. While the Center has moved beyond its original mission in the 1920s to conduct experiments on extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK), it still focuses largely on topics shunned by traditional ...
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