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Big Machine: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Victor Lavalle
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.39
You Save: $5.61 (37%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Ricky Rice is a middling hustler with a lingering junk habit, a bum knee, and a haunted mind. A survivor of a suicide cult, he scrapes by as a porter at a bus depot in Utica, New York, until one day a mysterious letter arrives, summoning him to enlist in a band of paranormal investigators comprised of former addicts and petty criminals, all of whom had at some point in their wasted lives heard what may have been the voice of God.

Infused with the wonder of a disquieting dream and laced with Victor LaValle’s fiendish comic sensibility, Big Machine is a mind-rattling mystery about doubt, faith, and the monsters we carry within us.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. LaValle has garnered critical acclaim for his previous works (a collection, Slapboxing with Jesus, and novel, The Ecstatic), and his second novel is sure to up his critical standing while furthering comparisons to Haruki Murakami, John Kennedy Toole and Edgar Allan Poe. Gritty, mostly honest-hearted ex-heroin addict protagonist Ricky Rice takes a chance on an anonymous note delivered to him at the cruddy upstate New York bus depot where he works as a porter. Quickly, Ricky finds himself among the Unlikely Scholars, a secret society of ex-addicts and petty criminals, all black like him, living in remote Vermont and sifting through stacks of articles in a library devoted to investigating the supernatural; the existence of a god; and the legacy of Judah Washburn, an escaped slave who claimed to have had contact with a higher being that the Unlikely Scholars now call the Voice. Ricky's intoxicating voice—robust, organic, wily—is perfect for narrating LaValle's high-stakes mashup of thrilling paranormal and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, as the fateful porter—something of a modern Odysseus rallied by a team of spiritual X-men—wanders through America's messianic hoo-hah. (Aug.)
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“Fractures all of our notions of how well-made fiction ought to behave. . .idea-hungry and haywire, too alive and abrasive to be missed.  The multicultural novel has come of age — smashingly.” — Kirkus (starred)

“LaValle is as much wry fabulist as he is dogged allegorist, and his flights of grim fancy are tethered by acute observations. He can be awfully funny, too. [His]devilish fable renders the visible world–of science, social hierarchies, and New York Times headlines–a load of cultish hooey.”

“Beautiful.” — Vanity Fair

“If Hieronymus Bosch and Lenny Bruce got knocked up by a woman with a large and compassionate heart, they might have brought forth Big Machine. But it is Victor LaValle's peculiar, poetic, rough and funny voice that brings it to us, alive and kicking and irresistible.”—Amy Bloom, author of the New York Times bestseller Away

Big Machine is like nothing I’ve ever read, incredibly human and alien at the same time. LaValle writes like Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed with Edgar Allen Poe, but this is even more than that. He’s written the first great book of the next America.”—Mos Def

“If the literary Gods mixed together Haruki Murakami and Ralph Ellison, and threw in several fistfuls of 21st century attitude, the result would be Victor LaValle.  Big Machine is a wonderful, original, and crazy novel.” —Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and About Grace

“Victor LaValle is one of the finest writers around—puzzling but never abstruse, compassionate but never pitying. With The Ecstatic, he produced one of my favorite novels of the decade, and now, with Big...

Product Details

  • File Size: 584 KB
  • Print Length: 386 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385527985
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (August 11, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002JRQM5E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,264 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AWEsome Writing -- Story? Well.... January 12, 2010
By Peter
Plenty of folks have provided plot summaries, so I'll forgo boring you with another one.

I found the writing in this book just brilliant. A real pleasure. Funny, insightful... A genuine joy to read.

On the other hand, the plot *does* descend into the supernatural and (as others have said) the just plain "weird" -- Too weird for me to really love the work.

The book is very richly detailed and well crafted. But throughout the book, I kept asking myself "What's he GETTING AT here? This character exposition is interesting, the writing is fun, the dialog is terrific... But what do ALL these various and interesting details MEAN in the larger scheme of things?" For example, what are we to take away from Adele's pre-Washburn torment? How does all the rich description of the washerwomen cult contribute to the overall theme of this book? Are we supposed to draw some sort of parallel between the lights in the hallway of the By The Bay hotel being smashed, and the lights in the stairwell during Ricky's last night with the washerwomen?

I couldn't help but wonder about these things.

And when things got supernatural I just wanted to know how everything ended. In fact, I didn't think the supernatural parts towards the end were the best crafted parts of the book -- I certainly felt there were some pretty weak plot turns (from the girl in the folklore society, to the guys who just happened to be in the lobby of By The Bay).

So... that's a conflicted review. I'm definitely looking forward to reading LaValle's next work.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly good writing October 28, 2009
I've been an editor for 20 years, and I can count on one hand the number of writers whose work holds a candle to Victor LaValle. The Big Machine is the first book I've read by LaValle, but it won't be the last. He is a genius, plain and simple.
All I will say about The Big Machine is that it's a very weird plot, and if you don't like "supernatural" ideas in your fiction, then you probably won't like this book. But if you can handle some truly weird and surprising story elements, then you're in for a treat.
Throughout a somewhat convoluted novel, LaValle manages to maintain stronger characterization and motivational consistency than I've seen in a very long time. His dialogue is spot-on, and subtly opens windows into his characters minds and backgrounds. As a reader, I totally believe in his characters, and I was moved and humbled by their agonizing struggles and transformations. For those reasons alone LaValle deserves five stars. But the (admittedly weird) story also is crafted in such an elegant and surprising way that it's worthy of more stars. I wish I could give him six or seven.
Heartily recommended ... with the caveat that readers should be prepared for weirdness.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy Good (and at Times Just Plain Crazy) June 11, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I must preface this review by saying I'm not a science fiction reader- while appreciate any well-written book, the genre as a whole just isn't for me. Exception: Big Machine. Victor LaValle's novel describes what happens when Ricky Rice decides to follow the directions on an anonymous note telling him to take a bus to Vermont. He becomes an "Unlikely Scholar" at a mysterious library, which is just the beginning of emotionally intense, unbelievable adventure.

Crazy Good (and at Times Just Plain Crazy)
- The best way I can describe LaValle's writing style is Urban Intellectual- told from the perspective of his main character, who has been around the block a few time (if you know what I'm sayin'), the reader understands that this man may not be book-smart, but is definitely life and street smart (with a few exceptions). I didn't feel as if I was reading LaValle write from Rice's perspective, I felt as if I was truly reading Rice's memoir.
- Rice's back story is just as interesting as what's going on in the present (a cult, heroin, flesh eating cats), which some author's fail to do. Another character's, Adele's, who becomes just as important, background is also divulged and is just as intriguing. LaValle deliberately creates flat characters and well-rounded ones, leaving no doubt who's important.
- One of the most important concepts of the book, redemption, really makes the reader turn inward, forcing them to examine their own values and willingness to forgive (others and themselves).
- This isn't a scifi book that's beating you over the head with aliens or time travel.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Ricky Rice, the protagonist in Victor LaValle's second novel, begins telling us his story in Utica, NY, which he has reached by way of even more podunk towns like Kingston, Elmira, and Troy. It's amazing to witness Ricky's transformation from a beaten-down bus-station janitor to a lead investigator on supernatural incidents for a covert operation.

The insight into cultish responses to supernatural phenomena, coupled with fast, modern writing rings of Don DeLillo (Mao II: A Novel) or even Chuck Palahniuk (Survivor: A Novel). That the author is a black novelist writing of a black everyman protagonist, in a very tour-de-force way, puts me in the mind of Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man). This novel is a fiercely sweeping and original take on contemporary America as it wrestles with its demons, be they literal or metaphorical.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavyweight
This is a fantastic novel. Though fairly short, and a fairly quick read, it's a big book: an ambitious story that touches on race, class, faith and the promise of America. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Wm.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Needed this book for school. story was a lil weird.
Published 4 months ago by E-Dub
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
A bit far fetched.
Published 5 months ago by Slydel Attkinson
3.0 out of 5 stars Confusing with few answers - yet somewhat entertaining
I'm sort of torn on this book. The writing itself was good. Solid straightforward prose, interesting descriptions, and hearty dialogue. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Fred Hunter
5.0 out of 5 stars ez read
Nice flowing writing. Well paced, making it so easy to suspend disbelief. Surprising and unique. A new, fantastic introspective world created within
Published 7 months ago by Harris Shilakowsky
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome writing/intriguing plot
I have thought about this book for months after I finished it. The writing is just great. The characters stick with you. Read more
Published 10 months ago by T. Kessler
5.0 out of 5 stars Part horror novel, part meditation on class and race, part literary...
It's hard to describe a book like Big Machine - when something manages to be this ambitious while also being unmistakably "strange" (in a good way), trying to talk too much... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Josh Mauthe
4.0 out of 5 stars So entertaining!!
It is one if those rare books that I think about daily. I finished it weeks ago but still miss the characters!!
Published 16 months ago by Alkrodeo
4.0 out of 5 stars Good clean fun
Most people do care if it rains or freezes even if they have their plastic Jesus. Most atheists seem to care more than Christians. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Frank Gadberry
1.0 out of 5 stars Big Machine? Big Mess!!!
I very rarely don't finish a book, but I put this down in a hurry. It started out promising enough, but about half way through the plot became unintelligable and I didn't see it... Read more
Published 20 months ago by ckdexterhaven
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More About the Author

Victor LaValle is the author of a short-story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus, and two novels, The Ecstatic & Big Machine.

His most recent novel, Big Machine, was named a best book of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Nation. Big Machine was awarded the Shirley Jackson Award for best novel, the American Book Award, and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

Other prizes include a Whiting Writers' Award, a USA Ford Fellowship,a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the key to Southeast Queens.

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