'A world where faith cannot pay its bills and greed is the only force in which anyone can reliably believe.' --TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
'A rich, textured story structured like a crime thriller and told in vivid but unshowy prose. Thematically meaty...recommended.' --SFX
'Beautiful.' --VANITY FAIR
'Unruly and entertaining...a monumental dreamwork.' --LOS ANGELES TIMES
'The first great book of the next America.' --Mos Def
'A truly phantasmagorical experience that is quite unlike anything you will have encountered before.' --Barry Forshaw, Crime Time
'A transcendent and provocative book that is wildly original and completely absorbing' --Katherine Tomlinson, California Literary Review
'Big Machine transcends the boundries of standard literary fiction and defies readers' expectations at every turn.' --Stephenie Harrison, BookPage
'Like his spiritual forebears, Chester Himes and Nelson Algren, he speaks for the unsung so we can hear their voice. Listen' --Cathi Unsworth, THE GUARDIAN, March 25th, 2011
LaValle writes like Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed with Edgar Allan Poe. He's written the first great book of the next America. --Mos Def
'A high-stakes mashup of thrilling paranormal and Ralph Ellison's `Invisible Man.' --Publishers Weekly
'A rich, textured story structured like a crime thriller and told in vivid but unshowy prose. Thematically meaty and recommended.
Religion and money are the two great American themes, and in Big Machine LaValle brings them together by creating a world where faith cannot pay its bills and greed is the only force in which anyone can reliably believe.
--TLS March 18, 2011
'An elegaic monster of a book that could be the bastard child of The X Files and Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and the Margarita.'
--Peter Millar - The Times - April 16th 2011
Don't look for dignity in public bathrooms. The most you'll find is privacy and sticky floors. But when my boss gave me the glossy envelope, the bathroom was the first place I ran. What can I say? Lurking in toilets was my job.
I was a janitor at Union Station in Utica, New York. Specifically contracted through Trailways to keep their little ticket booth and nearby bathroom clean. I'd done the same job in other upstate towns, places so small their whole bus stations could've fit inside Union Station's marbled hall. A year in Kingston, six months in Elmira. Then Troy. Quit one and find the next. Sometimes I told them I was leaving, other times I just disappeared.
When I got the envelope, I went to the bathroom and shut the door. I couldn't lock it from the inside so I did the next best thing and pulled my cleaning cart in front of the door to block the way. My boss was a woman, but if the floors in front of the Trailways booth weren't shining she'd launch into the men's room with a fury. She had hopes for a promotion.
But even with the cart in the way I felt exposed. I went into the third stall, the last stall, so I could have my peace. Soon as I opened the door, though, I shut it again. Good God. Me and my eyes agreed that the second stall would be better. I don't know what to say about the hygiene of the male species. I can understand how a person misses the hole when he's standing, but how does he miss the hole while sitting down? My goodness, my goodness. So, it was decided, I entered stall number two.
The front of the envelope had my name, written by hand, and nothing else. No return address in the corner or on the back, and no mailing address. My boss just said the creamy yellow envelope had been sitting on her desk when she came in that morning. Propped against the green clay pen holder her son made in art class.
I held the envelope up to the fluorescent ceiling lights and saw two different papers inside. One a long rectangle and the other a small square. I tapped the envelope against my palm, then tore the top half slowly. I blew into the open envelope, turned it upside down, and dropped both pieces of paper into my hand.
I heard my name and a slap against the bathroom door. Hit hard enough that the push broom fell right off my cleaning cart and clacked against the tile floor. You would've thought a grenade had gone off from the way I jumped. The little sheets of paper slipped from my palm and floated to that sticky toilet floor.
"Aw, Cheryl!" I shouted.
"Don't give me that," she yelled back.
I walked out the stall to my cleaning cart. Lifted the broom and pulled the cart aside. Didn't even have time to open the door for Cheryl, she just pushed at it any damn way. I flicked the ceiling lights off, like a kid who thinks the darkness will hide him.
I'm going to tell you something nice about my boss, Cheryl McGee. She could be sweet as baby's feet as long as she didn't think you were taking advantage. When I first moved to Utica, she and her son even took me out for Chicken Riggies. It was a date, but I pretended I didn't know. The stink of failure had followed my relationships for years, and I preferred keeping this job to trying for love again.
Now she stood at the bathroom door, trying to peek around me. A slim little redhead who'd grown her hair down to her waist and wore open-toed sandals in all but the worst of winter.
"Someone's in there?" she asked, looked up at the darkened lights.
"Me," I said.
She pointed her chin down, but her eyes up at me. She thought she looked like a mastermind, dominating with her glare, but I'd been shot at before. Once, I was thrown down a flight of stairs.
"I mean, is there anyone in there that I can't fire?"
Oop. I lifted the broom and shook it.
"I was just sweeping," I said.
Cheryl nodded and stepped back two paces.
"I don't mind breaks, Ricky, you know that." She took out her cell phone and flipped it open, looked at the face. "But I need this station looking crisp first thing in the morning."
"I'll be done in a minute," I said.
Cheryl nodded, reached back, and swept her hand through her waist-length hair. The gesture didn't look like flirtation, just hard work.
"Hey! What did that letter say?"
I looked back into the bathroom. "Don't know yet."
She nodded and squeezed her lips together. "Well, I'd love to know," she said, and smiled weakly.
"Me too," I told her, not unkindly.
Then, of all things, she gave me a limp salute with her right hand. After that she turned in her puffy gray boots and walked toward the ticket booth.
The bathroom's windows were a row of small frosted glass rectangles right near the ceiling. They let in light, but turned it green and murky. Now, as I crept back to the second toilet stall, I imagined I was walking underwater, and felt queasy. I opened the door to find the first piece of paper right where I'd dropped it. And I recognized it immediately.
A bus ticket.