Rashida's Reviews > Big Machine

Big Machine by Victor LaValle
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Feb 20, 10

bookshelves: magical-realism
Read from February 08 to 20, 2010

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 to understand. I'm just not sure that I do. And I'm not sure if it's because I'm too dense, or because he's being too obtuse. But I'm questioning, there goes my doubt again, so I think I'm getting the hang of this.

Here is what I loved. I know these characters. They are people that I walk by, interact with, work with every day. And they are people that I don't think have ever been written about in a work of fiction in quite this way. These characters could easily populate the pages of all that so called urban lit. But in those books, they would be clowns and minstrels. Ostensibly giving voice to the "real life" but in reality doing nothing more than perpetuating horrible stereotypes and dragging down another generation of readers who start to buy into the cycle of self-oppression. But LaValle also avoids the other things that happens to characters like these in other novels. They are not romanticized. They have not become noble savages or magic negroes.

LaValle has done nothing more and nothing less than choose people who are unpopular in our world, and write a novel that shows that they are people. As with all people, they are nuanced, they experience development, they have dreams and nightmares, and wishes and motivations. And they are different from me and they are the same as me. And I can learn much about life, society, the country, the universe, just by paying attention to any of the people around me, no matter how I might want to label them in a novel, on a corner, or my personal life. Amazingly, LaValle has me thinking all these things in the midst of a plot that on the surface is about something much different.

So, why am I confused or doubting or prevaricating or procrastinating in my ultimate "star rating?" Why can't I say "I loved it!" or "I hated it!" or even, heavens forbid, "It was just okay?" Well, because even though all the deep thoughts in the novel have me feeling like Jack Handy, there is still the surface plot to contend with. This is still a novel that is essentially a caper tale, with a sci-fi/fantasy/magical-realism tint. I just didn't feel that engaged in the actual mystery and machinations of the little adventure the characters were going on.

So, I'll continue to think about it. And if I can't figure it out, I'll just have to stick it with the "unrankable" tag. ha.
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Reading Progress

02/15/2010 page 100
27.03% "Going slowly. Can't decide how I feel about it. But I know that I love that people I see in my life are finally given voice in a novel"

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by jo (new)

jo such a nice, nuanced, thoughtful review. doubt and uncertainty as SO underrated.


Rashida I'll go ahead and go with four stars. I'm not quite behind the concept of the star system, anyway, and LaValle gets an A for Effort, so why not reward that with a pretty good final grade?


Rashida Oh, thanks, Jo, for the compliment


Penny (Literary Hoarders) Okay Rashida, you have summed up precisely what I am feeling/thinking about this book...I have about 20 pages left but like you, what is the deeper meaning??? But I did like it, did like reading about these people a lot...


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