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Big Machine

3.32  ·  Rating Details ·  2,874 Ratings  ·  465 Reviews
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 suicide 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. Ther
Hardcover, 370 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2009)
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Dec 26, 2009 christa rated it liked it
Maybe you just broke up with your boyfriend. Maybe you haven't had a boyfriend in, like, eons. Along comes this guy: good-lookingish, sorta funny, kinda interesting. People you like also like him. You shrug and give him a whirl. You just cannot catch the fever, though. There is something off. Cogs that don't match up or something. Trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. He becomes a placeholder. Someone to sit next to in relationship's waiting room.

That, for me, was what it was like to r
Sep 14, 2009 Edan rated it really liked it
For the first 200 or so pages, Big Machine was my favorite book of the year. It's smart, it's really fucking funny, the world I was pulled into was fascinating and weird and utterly believable, even as it was absurd and playful. And I loved the narrator. Ricky Rice is probably one of the best voices to come out of literature in the last...oh, ever probably. The prose here is stunning, smart, beautiful, and funny in the way that I want it to be:
"This guy was no bigger than a bunion" (32).

Apr 02, 2010 Paul rated it it was amazing
"Horror fiction at its best is in the business of pushing back the barriers, or risking the absurd in order to reach the sublime.”–Ramsey Campbell (from the foreword of Alan Moore’s SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING, book 1)

I need to go back and amend my top 10 books of 2009 list and put Victor LaValle’s amazing and brilliant BIG MACHINE at number one. I mean, compare BIG MACHINE to the pile of steaming mediocrity of some of the ‘big’ books (big= media hype, buzz, and more buzz) I’ve been reading lately w
Sep 13, 2010 Kemper rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, modern-lit
If you had a really important job that you needed done, a critical mission that the entire fate of your life’s work depended on, would you send a 40 year-old ex-heroin junkie with a bad leg out to take care of it? No? Neither would I. Ricky Rice might have saved himself some serious trouble if he simply asked, “Why me?”

As a child Ricky’s family had been part of a cult led by three women in Queens, and he later grew up to be an addict. Now clean he has been working as a janitor in a bus station w
Apr 05, 2010 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
Victor Lavelle’s Big Machine leaves me grasping for comparisons. I’m reminded of Chicago’s Reckless Records. Years back someone working at the store started stickering new releases with commentary like “a mix of Throbbing Gristle and Teenage Fanclub with some early Yes influence.” I never had any idea of what those stickers meant, honestly, but they became a Reckless tradition that still, to my knowledge, exists today. I don’t know. I haven’t been to Reckless in a good six months.

Anyway, Big Mac
Edward Lorn
Oct 23, 2016 Edward Lorn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paperbacks
Victor LaValle is a terrific writer. He plays with emotions, can make you laugh in one paragraph and sad in the next, and then laugh again a few sentences later. The writing isn't the issue I had with this book. It's the voice. I read LaValle's The Ecstatic months ago. While reading Big Machine, I noticed that both main characters, while different people, had the same voice. I'm starting to believe that LaValle only has the one voice: slightly-sarcastic, self-deprecating, relatable low life. He ...more
Aug 13, 2009 Vanessa rated it liked it
Shelves: botns
Essentially you either get magical realism or you don't. I am the latter. So, I didn't really get this book. But the writing is so good and the protagonist is so amazingly written and realized, that I didn't entirely mind. Ricky Rice's back story was so interesting it would have made a fabulous book on its own. Instead, he is dropped into a really strange (but utterly original story) about a mysterious "research" organization staffed by former junkies and criminals that are looking for messages ...more
Melody DeMeritt
Sep 16, 2009 Melody DeMeritt rated it liked it
A book that grew aggravating as it attempted too much...plots and sub-plots and awkward time shifts.
In the end, two swamp devils (or angels) rise to try to direct (or mis-direct) two unlikely and unlikable central characters to do something that by the last 50 pages I did not care about.

The first 1/2 is very engaging and thus pulls you in and I felt committed to finishing the novel at that point. But the plot twisted and turned and characters were introduced that I had no idea why they were in t
Jul 11, 2009 Simon marked it as unfinished
This is one of those books that cries "orphan" and so leads reviewers to cast about for possible ancestries. The back cover of the book itself sports three. "Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed with Edgar Allan Poe, but more than that," writes critic Mos Def. "If the literary gods mixed together Haruki Murakami and Ralph Ellison... the result would be" Big Machine, says Anthony Doerr. "If Hieronymous Bosch and Lenny Bruce got knocked up by a woman with a large and compassionate heart, they might have b ...more
Nancy Oakes
I actually quite enjoyed this one -- above all, LaValle has a unique voice, his work is original (thank you), and he is one of my favorite storytellers. The man gets his points across, with serious things to say wrapped up a rather convoluted tale, and his work is definitely worth reading.

In chapter three of this book, there is a bus passenger who is "three-quarters bum" standing in the aisle yelling at his fellow passengers, telling them that there's a fight going on in the country -- a fight
Ben Campbell
Aug 23, 2009 Ben Campbell rated it did not like it
I seek exquisite, heralding, concise, quantum, stealth stories (reality fiction) to coin my phrase. Plotting and sub-plotting needs to jettison me into outer space and plummet me into hell. I won't be bothered with menial, mundane situations and tongue-wagging dialog. Dull and tedious characters kill the story and bury my interest. Am I asking too much from a writer? Hell no! Time is precious and words manipulate.

Accost me with exhilarating and electrifying characters. You say that's too difficu
after: Well poo. I'm sorry that I didn't like this more, honestly I am. But it just didn't, well, touch me, as mushy as that sounds.

I mean, major major props for a wholly original, completely unique premise. A group of ex-junkies and -prostitutes and -fuckups receive a bus ticket to a secret retreat in rural Vermont so that they can become "unlikely scholars"? Whoa. After many months of "researching" things they don't understand, a few of the unlikely scholars have to go out in the field to fin
aPriL does feral sometimes
The name 'Big Machine' is actually a title given by a character in this story describing the corrosive operation of doubt on the human soul. 'Big Machine' is also a story that is a religious allegory. Wait, don't run away! At least just listen a minute.

It also has a lot of what could be labeled magical realism. Hang on, wait, stay, please! Fine. Run away then. You're missing out!

Ok, then. Now only us hardcore literary types are still here. Did I mention the book could be defined as a novel whi
Nov 08, 2011 Molly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is not a good book. There were some striking passages, almost all in the flashbacks that happened in the second half of the book, but much of the story was under-described and the prose uninventive. Still I read the whole thing. This experience reminded me of a profile I read of Quentin Tarantino a few years ago (my best guess that it was in a 2004 New Yorker). In it, the director talks about his fascination with C movies and their ability to keep you just curious enough to keep watching. T ...more
Sep 08, 2009 Rashida rated it really liked it
Shelves: magical-realism
I'm not ready to assign the stars yet. I need to think it over. I'm also not sure that I'm ready to write this review yet, so it's likely to be less coherent than I think I usually am. I'm just not sure how I feel. But, I'm okay with that, as I think it means that I'm exercising the gift of doubt, which will strengthen my faith. My faith in what, exactly, I'm not sure. But I feel like if I keep thinking about it, I might soon understand. Because there is some bigger message that LaValle wants me ...more
I'm really stymied about how to begin a review of this book. First of all, I had high expectations, having heard that the people who loved it REALLY loved it, and that basically, if you didn't love it, it's because you didn't finish it. I had no trouble finishing, as I was quickly seduced by LaValle's easy writing style, a flair for cliffhangers, and swift plot. Swift as in, things happen frequently and excitingly, but I can't for a second tell you how or why. Half the time I was really perplexe ...more
Feb 11, 2013 Tiffany rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Someone I hated very much
This might sound a tad hyperbolic but this is, without a doubt, one of the worst books I have ever read. The more I think about it, the angrier I get. I start thinking about all the hours I wasted on it. Somewhere around Chapter 30 (when the book starts getting into the back story about the cult) I was tempted to give up, but I kept chugging at it anyway. After all, how could you ignore all the glowing critical praise on the book's jacket? Named the best book of the year by the Los Angeles Times ...more
Sep 27, 2009 Becky rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
I think this was two books - one about a man doing the best to survive with what the world has given him, and one about strange mysteries of the beyond. Had it just been the first, I would have rated it much higher - but the grafting on of the strange mysteries bit was ultimately unsatisfying. It was spooky and supernatural, but without a good reason.
Neil Schleifer
DISCLAIMER: This book was sent to me for free via Random House Publishing as part of a Goodreads sponsored contest.

Author Victor Lavalle starts with a great premise by creating an unlikely "hero" - Ricky Rice, a Utica, NY bus station janitor -- who receives a mysterious envelope with a cryptic message and and a bus ticket to Vermont sending him off on a X-Files-like mission. Ricky is the last person one would expect to be thrust into the middle of this kind of an adventure, so Lavalle hooks us r
Jul 15, 2013 Craig rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Victor LaValle is one of the up-and-coming (or has he arrived? He's new to me, and his website bio is evasive.) GenX black male authors (Mat Johnson and Colson Whitehead amongst them) exploring genre fiction, and it's an exciting adventure to go on. I especially appreciate the shout-outs to Shirley Jackson and Octavia Butler in the end notes as inspirations for the book. But beyond the shout-outs, I think LaValle does an amazing job of creating something out of the juxtaposition that both those ...more
Jan 06, 2011 Peter rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does anyone else think it's weird that Goodreads doesn't recognize "Goodreads" as a word in its spell check?

Anyway, this book was kind of disappointing. I know 3 stars technically means I "liked" a book, but I guess I mean "like," in this sense, as if I just want to be friends with it. You know, I like the book as a friend. But if it asked me to go roller skating or something, I'd probably have to gently turn it down.

The problem was that it started off so amazing. The first 50 pages or so set
Apr 01, 2012 Danny rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
This is a strange book, but I liked it a lot. At the end the author tips his hat to horror writers who influenced him, and this book certainly delves into the paranormal and spiritual realms, but the focus seems to be more on the characters and their personal journeys rather than things that go bump in the night. (Nevertheless, things do go bump in the night.)

The Washburn Library in Vermont gathers its unlikely scholars from the downtrodden and destitute ranks of former prostitutes and drug addi
X Twain
Jan 05, 2014 X Twain rated it really liked it
Not all the plot points were convincing, but the story kept me engaged. The concepts presented as part of the story in the first half of the book were more interesting than those presented in the second half.
Feb 10, 2016 Adam rated it really liked it
This book was wild. It started off as a socio-political mystery and turned into a horror/thriller and ended as some sort of version of paranormal/sci-fi. Though it was uneven at parts it definitely was worth it. It's not that often that a book takes you on such a surprising journey.
Marc Kozak
I'm in a severe dry spot with modern fiction - the last several books I've read that were written after 2005 seem to have the same problem: the writing is so so bland. Big Machine is essentially my issues with modern storytelling all wrapped into one. A good idea (a guy who was raised in a cult randomly gets a letter drafting him into another cult many years later), some compelling mystery (who is this new cult? How did they know about the main character's past? What are their shadowy goals), a ...more
Jan 12, 2010 Mairead rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-brain
"Doubt is the big machine. It grinds up the delusions of women and men."

Second book off the publishers weekly top 10 of 2009 and I liked it just fine. Whiting Writers' Award, Ford Fellowship winner, finalist for PEN faulkner award, owner of the key to Southeast Queens = LaValle is a recognized author. Which made the supernatural bent of his fictional thriller/mystery, so unexpected. And enticing. Dogged by failures with women and jobs and his quest to sire a child, take Ricky Rice through flurr
William Thomas
Feb 27, 2010 William Thomas rated it liked it
Victor LaValle, you are a severely gifted writer of prose. But that alone doesn't save this book. Your story is so fractured that at points it is aggravatingly off-putting. On the other hand, your characters are brilliantly penned, your tone so conversational and your structure so literary that it is hard to be mad at you about the storyline. Sigh. I had high hopes for a 5 star review at the outset.

This book began as the most promising novel I had begun reading in quite a while. However, the st
Jul 22, 2010 Ben rated it did not like it
LaValle employs an old trick: the "to be continued" zinger. The chapters are between 3 and 8 pages long, and the end of nearly every chapter contains a seat-gripping one-liner (such as "and that's when we chose our costumes"). While this can be effective, he's addicted to it, delivering the reader endless shocking, confusing, and sometimes outright misleading statements--(like the one above) to keep her involved. LaValle uses this approach, but he rarely delivers on the hype. The novel is writte ...more
Kelliann Gomez
Oct 31, 2015 Kelliann Gomez rated it it was amazing
I wasn't a big fan on The Devil in Silver, so I went into this book with my hopes fairly low. I thought this was much, much better, though!

The characters in Big Machine were incredibly well done. I feel like by the end of the book, I really knew Ricky and Adele and was really interested in seeing what they would do, why, and to view the world through their eyes in order to understand what was going on. I think the time jumps were also done very well; they never got confusing and always contribut
Feb 04, 2011 Deb rated it really liked it
Recommended to Deb by: Graham
Shelves: fiction
"Sometimes a man retreats so far inward he mistakes isolation for dominion."
-- from this strangely poetic book I've been reading very slowly, an odd thing for a lady who devours books like other folks breathe air.

The prose sets my thoughts adrift in the way a good book should: in "Big Machine," Victor Lavalle's narration speaks to you frequently, and as my soul nods or questions, I think "isn't it curious that my soul is speaking up at all!" then wonder at all the discoveries Lavalle makes me a
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Victor LaValle is the author of the short story collection Slapboxing with Jesus, four novels, The Ecstatic, Big Machine, The Devil in Silver, and The Changeling and two novellas, Lucretia and the Kroons and The Ballad of Black Tom. He is also the creator and writer of a comic book Victor LaValle's DESTROYER.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Whiting Writers' Award, a United
More about Victor LaValle...

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“A little style is a good thing, but you can’t trust a person who won’t be ugly in front of you.” 18 likes
“No matter where you go, poor people have the capacity to endure. Some people even compliment us on it, as if endurance is all we can achieve.” 7 likes
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