Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Epiphany Machine” as Want to Read:
The Epiphany Machine
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Epiphany Machine

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  1,004 ratings  ·  190 reviews
A searing alternative history of New York city, from the 60s to the near future, in which a tattoo machine is rumored to inscribe insightful assessments on its users’ forearms—with irreversible consequences.

Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too.

That’s the promise of Adam Lyon’s epiphany machine, or at least the headline of an original promotiona
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published July 18th 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Epiphany Machine, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Epiphany Machine

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,004 ratings  ·  190 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Epiphany Machine
Aug 08, 2017 marked it as to-read
another subscription box for meeeee! this one comes to you from page habit: and i say THANK YOU!

 photo IMG_2992_zpsoqutmilv.jpg

maggie may no longer with me to explore these book boxes as they arrive, but she's here in spirit, and cremains. this might seem grotesque, but i miss her and love her with all of the me that there is, so this is in honor of her and her investigative spirit and not some inappropriate "weekend at bernie's" disrespect of the deceased. she'd appreciate the gesture.
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
New Entry into Pantheon of Cult Classics?
Words are like weapons: they wound sometimes.
Diane Warren, "If I Could Turn Back Time" (quoted in epigraphs to novel)

Prelim. review:*

Perhaps the initial hesitation of lit reviewers and literary readers to pick up this gem comes from the failure of the publisher to do any promotion and from the sci-fi element in an otherwise literary novel. The plot surrounds a contraption discovered by its owner in the 1960s that will tattoo your epiphany on your inner fo
Andrew Smith
Dec 31, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finished
Update 15/1/18

The tale of a machine that mysteriously writes a message on your arm – a message that alerts you to something significant, a message that is seeking to steer you. Well that sounds interesting enough. The trouble is that the idea here is better than the execution. Well, in truth, I base this view on the first 50 pages only as this is as far as I got before something - no, not a tattoo on my arm - told me enough was enough.

Maybe it’s that I’ve got no staying power on maybe it’s just
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: publisher, reviewed
"You already know what the machine will write on your arm. That lie you've been telling yourself—you know what it is. That blind spot is not really a blind spot—you're choosing to look away." The epiphany machine tattoos a statement on the forearms of people who want to find out something about themselves, some characteristic that they already know on some level but are afraid to face. Adam Lyons has been operating the machine for years, but where it came from and how it works is not clear. Is A ...more
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I imagine if this novel had arms and one of those arms were inked with its own epiphany tattoo, it would read: PROMISING PREMISE BUT OTHERWISE PAINFULLY DULL & PLODDING.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was really looking forward to this book. It started out great. But then it stalled out and I got tired of reading the same self flagellation repeated ad nauseam. I didn't care for any of the main characters. I'm not even sure it was worth the effort put in to finish it. Disappointing for sure. ...more
Katie Walsh
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
I leave this novel incredibly disappointed. The premise -- that a machine can tattoo truths about yourself on your arm -- was intriguing to me, and from the early moment in the book where we learn Venter (the protagonist)'s father's tattoo (SHOULD NEVER BECOME A FATHER), I was absolutely hooked. It's part mystery, part exploration, interweaving narrative with fictional testimonials, articles, etc. I tore through the first half of the book.

Then I came to a chapter that included page-long sex scen
Oct 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I loathed this book! It has an interesting idea about a truth telling tattoo that reveals the innermost self-opinion that we hold secret. By getting the tattoo, people expose this flaw [most of the time it appears to be a flaw] and it forces them to address it and either change or embrace. Okay, get by the idea of it and it is chock full of ridiculous characters who annoy, frustrate, make numerous plot only actions--how this is getting acclaim is beyond me. It is an absurd book about absurd peop ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Renée Goldfarb
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thank you to Penguin's First to Read Program for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review. The Epiphany Machine, by new author David Burr Gerrard, is the story of a tattoo machine that inscribes one’s inner-most insights onto his or her forearm. The story is told through the eyes of its protagonist, Venter Lowood, and shares an alternative history of New York City from the 60’s through present time.

I thought the book was brilliant and it reminded me very much of Jonatha
Angel Hench
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read all my reviews at

What would my epiphany tattoo be? What would yours be?

“The worst possible thing you could think of to say about someone will almost certainly be your epiphany.”

The epiphany machine tattoos on the forearm a one-sentence “truth” about the person receiving the tattoo. You know, that one thing about someone that everyone knows – except the person themselves.

“Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too”

Venter Lowood is the POV charac
The concept was cool, but that's all I really liked about the book. The Epiphany Machine is a strange machine that tattoos on a person's arm their essence. For example, on our milquetoast narrator's arm the machine inks "Dependent on the opinions of others". And before 9/11, on the arm of a brown Muslim man, the best friend of our narrator, it inks "Wants to blow up things".

And predictably, it went exactly where I thought it would go. The unfortunate fact is that as much as I hated poor Venter,
Ana Harvey
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
"The Epiphany Machine" is not a light-hearted, fun, summer read. It is dark, complicated, frustrating, and as real as an alternative history should be. Although it is a very well written book, with an original and thought-provoking theme, it was not an enjoyable read for me. The characters are selfish and often unlikable. It was difficult to relate to the main characters, including Venter and Adam, which made it hard to care about the consequences that befell them. The interweaving of characters ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Along with the quest to find one’s purpose in life, the next biggest challenge a human can face is to figure out who they are and find a way to live with themselves. In David Burr Gerrard’s The Epiphany Machine, we see that struggle over and over as Venter Lowood deals with the fallout from several lifetimes of bad decisions and misunderstandings. At the heart of all these decisions and misunderstandings is the eponymous machine, which tattoos an epiphany on the forearm of anyone who uses it. Th ...more
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Flynn
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic novel about growing up, fate and morality. Like his earlier novel, Short Century, Gerrard tells an slightly-alternative version of American history. Though the Epiphany Machine takes a seemingly outlandish concept, a machine that writes a deep truth about people on their arms, and embeds it in the heart of late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Epiphany Machine has a uncertain provenance, with many theories as to its origins. In the end (for the novel) it ends up in the hands of a A ...more
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reading this I experienced the raw excitement I got reading something great when I was a teenager (like Vonnegut, Brautigan, The World According to Garp). I read every day and like most of what I read but I rarely have that feeling that I am reading something both brilliant and transformative. But I guess I'm not too old and mentally sedate for that feeling, so thank you Epiphany Machine! ...more
Todd Glaeser
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Received galley for free from

Kind of reminded me of a couple of Twilight Zone episodes. I was entertained but the ending left me unsatisfied. Everything was left unresolved. Sometimes I don't mind that.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am reviewing my own personal copy of this book, of my own free will. :-)

I guess you could call the POV of this story an "unreliable narrator," although it's a little bit of a stretch. I say that because there's a lot of mythology surrounding the actual Epiphany Machine, so most of the backstory is theory, and not rooted in any sort of fictionized factual information. I also enjoyed seeing our real history woven into this parallel universe. A kind of 'what-if' scenario, if someone had done what
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An object that looks like a sewing machine can inscribe a truth about you on your forearm that you probably already knew but it makes clear. It has the power to change your life - or destroy it.

"The Epiphany Machine" is part science fiction, part thriller that's all cautionary tale.

Some people love the message the machine gives them, others don't. Even when given the message on their arm, many can take its meaning in a variety of different ways.

Teenager Venter Lowood gets the tattoo "Dependent
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
(view spoiler) ...more
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What begins as an innocently intriguing story of a Cronenbergian sewing machine that tattoos a truth about your self in ALL CAPS onto your arm becomes larger and larger as you read on. My smart-assy "heh, I knew it was going to address XYZ" was very swiftly thumped down by additional explorations into literary meta, psychology, and topics I did not see coming until we got there.
It's a novel that deserves multiple visits.I was so enthralled by the story and the characters that I knowingly dismis
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: r-pfr
The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard has a wonderful premise that grapples with philosophical questions. Can a machine write what is embedded in a an individual or does the writing cause the person to believe that about themselves and make decisions in that light, forever altering the course of their lives? Unfortunately, for me, the books turns in too many directions, never fully addressing any one – philosophical, historical, or personal.

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfro
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pretty interesting book. I really liked the concept. Sometimes it's hard to enjoy a book when you find yourself disliking the main character, but I still wanted to read this one even as Venter annoyed me more and more. There's a fair amount of sex discussion and description in this book, so if that really bothers you, I'd skip it. I think there was more than necessary, anyway... The ending felt a little too perfect and thrown-together, but otherwise it was a solid story. ...more
Jun 25, 2018 rated it liked it
i really liked the concept of it and that’s why i picked it up but after the first few chapters it started to become... jumbled. it became slow and all over the place. occasionally there would be some interesting things to make you keep reading and it wasn’t necessarily boring it was more bad writing that was so good at making you want to keep reading? i don’t know it was okay and i really liked the concept but it was truthfully all over the place. and the sex scenes were too much honestly
Jeremy Garber
How would you change your life if a machine tattooed a cryptic message about your soul directly on your arm? Gerrard's masterfully crafted book asks just that question, in the context of 9/11 and a young man's quest to discover himself. The main character, Venter, works with Adam, the man who owns the epiphany machine and has tattooed everyone from serial killers to John Lennon himself (to Adam's disappointment, Bob Dylan never agreed). Through his apprenticeship to Adam, Venter searches for his ...more
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wickedly funny interrogation of the modern American condition, one with a story that's so compelling that you'll almost—almost—become engrossed enough to stop wondering what epiphany the epiphany machine would give you. Definitely in my top-3 fiction reads of the year so far. ...more
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunning book, and one that I enjoyed from the first page to the last. A dark story than manages to be, by turns, funny, engaging, and horrifying. The events of 9/11 and subsequent U.S. invasions defined a generation, and Gerrard brilliantly captures the psyche of young Americans still struggling to come to grips with it. I know I will be thinking about this book for a long time.
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
For some reason this book initially gave me the same feeling as when I read 1984. It has that big brother-ish type of feel. Not so much that someone is always watching but more so that you know deep down what you fear the most...kind of like making your subconscious big brother. And that is what your epiphany tattoo would be.
It's very well written and easy to read. The characters are just developed enough to become interested in their story. Also, I liked the "interviews" being interspersed thr
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Had It Coming: What's Fair in the Age of #MeToo?
  • Kill Baxter (Apocalypse Now Now #2)
  • Ring Shout
  • Finn Fancy Necromancy (Finn Fancy Necromancy, #1)
  • The God Gene (The ICE Sequence #2)
  • The Girl in the Photograph
  • Panacea (The ICE Sequence #1)
  • Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free (Finn Fancy Necromancy, #2)
  • The Deep Zone (Hallie Leland, #1)
  • Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy
  • Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors
  • Reckless
  • The Infinite Future
  • The Arctic Fury
  • Kindle Oasis User's Guide
  • The Jagged Orbit
  • Aleister & Adolf
  • The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, #1)
See similar books…
David Burr Gerrard is the author of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE (Putnam, July 2017) and SHORT CENTURY (Rare Bird, 2014). He teaches creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop.

Related Articles

  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose debut novel, Black Buck—which Colson Whitehead calls a “mesmerizing novel, executing a high...
71 likes · 8 comments
“Thinking, like other drugs, can be a useful distraction from pain, as long as it's managed and doesn't become an addiction.” 2 likes
“I'm saying that figuring out what's important in life and how to go about getting it is very difficult. Sometimes you get confused and you get tempted to just let other people make the rules. And some people are really happy to make the rules for other people. Adam Lyons, the man who runs the epiphany machine, is one of those people.” 2 likes
More quotes…