Big Machine by Victor LaValle

A brokedown junkie, ex-cultist and mass murder survivor gets a mysterious invitation to become an Unlikely Scholar investigating odd phenomena across America.

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Big Machine rocked my world. Stylistically, it’s a mash-up of Haruki Murakami and Stephen King, with a bit of Ralph Ellison for good measure.

When junkie Ricky Rice becomes an Unlikely Scholar under way mysterious circumstances, he finds himself scouring newspapers for stories that give evidence to The Voice. His journey grows ever more wild, and as he travels across the country from Vermont to northern California on the trail of the Voice and something more human and more ominous, he reflects back on the journey that got him to this point. His childhood in a cult, his years as a junkie and petty criminal, and his efforts to stay on the straight and narrow become more than just a life story. It’s a Pilgrim’s Progress founded on doubt–but a doubt that might be stronger than the faith of some.

LaValle has a lot to say about American fanaticism of all stripes. The social commentary here is fascinating, specific, and outrageously funny. Ricky Rice will become one of my favorite characters for the unique voice LaValle gives him, at once guileless and sneaky, wise and foolish, a street smart risk taker who has survived way too much.

The story is wild beyond imagining, with horror elements that don’t hold back. LaValle is not genre-slumming here. He genuinely wants to freak us out.

I was fortunate enough to hear LaValle read a large chunk of the opening of this book, and I was hooked. Definitely planning to read more of his work.

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