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Big Machine

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  3,439 ratings  ·  549 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 V
Hardcover, 370 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau
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Average rating 3.35  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,439 ratings  ·  549 reviews

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Dec 26, 2009 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 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). ...more
Apr 02, 2010 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 read
Sep 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: modern-lit, sci-fi
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 b
Apr 05, 2010 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, Bi
Aug 13, 2009 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
Edward Lorn
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 nails that voice ...more
Jul 11, 2009 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 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
Melody DeMeritt
Sep 16, 2009 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
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
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it
“Have you ever known failure so deep, it feels biological?”

I like Victor LaValle. The dude is crazy good. I didn’t read anything about this one prior to picking and digging right in. I don’t really need to with LaValle. I know it is going to be weird, interesting, entertaining and smart. I also know that most of the time I won’t know wtf is going on or where it’s going. The only thing I’ll know for sure is that it won’t be what I think it is…and that’s a good thing.

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 find one of th
Feb 11, 2013 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
Nov 08, 2011 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
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
Sep 27, 2009 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.
incredible. i am going to add lavalle to the pantheon of the most visionary, prophetic and enchanting contemporary writers in the US of A.

(but did you have to have the bit about loving/liking america at the end, victor?)
Sep 08, 2009 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
Jan 06, 2011 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
Gregor Xane
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I will be reading more by Mr. LaValle!!!
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
"People hear that you grew up religious, and they can’t imagine you’d have a complex relationship with faith. If you believe one part, you must believe it all. But who gets more chances to see the absurdities than the devout? An answer that’s satisfying on Sunday becomes contradictory by Wednesday night. Belief is a wrestling match that lasts a lifetime."
May 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who are too happy
Recommended to James by: Julie S
Doubt is the big machine. Now you don't have to read the book.

Rick Rice is started life in an improbable cult and then keeps stumbling into others. One is the Library, founded by a blind, black man who traveled with two chests of gold in the late 1700s from California to Vermont because it's the only free state. And things just get stranger from there.

Other characters who grace this work are mostly some kind of criminal or are society's dregs. At least they all have a unique name! If you li
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 Lavall
Jul 15, 2013 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
Apr 01, 2012 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 a
Feb 10, 2016 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.
X Twain
Jan 05, 2014 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.
Julie S
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was good but you know it’s quite weird and I’m not even sure how I’d explain it to someone
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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 States Artists Ford Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellow
“A little style is a good thing, but you can’t trust a person who won’t be ugly in front of you.” 31 likes
“Doubt is the big machine. It grinds up the delusions of women and men.” 11 likes
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