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Big Machine Paperback – 2 Mar 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: NO EXIT PRESS (2 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842433644
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842433645
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Victor LaValle, born February 3, 1972, was raised in Flushing and Rosedale, Queens. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in English and received his M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia University. He has been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches writing at Columbia University.

Victor LaValle is the author of the short story collection 'Slapboxing with Jesus' and two novels, 'The Ecstatic' and 'Big Machine'.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Whiting Writers' Award, a United States Artists Ford Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the key to Southeast Queens.

He can be kind of hard to reach.

Find out more about the author and his book 'Big Machine' on

Product Description


'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

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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.

"Ricky Rice!"

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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TomCat on 11 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
On the Venn diagram of the New Weird, Victor Lavalle's Big Machine sits round about where the circles of Michael Cisco and Neil Gaiman overlap those of Thomas Ligotti, Haruki Murakami and even, maybe, Stephen King. Perhaps. That's not to say Lavalle doesn't bring his own keg to the party (and New Weird is nothing if not a party), but readers whose boots are already used to the outlandish soil of Weird should find themselves treading relatively familiar ground here. Furthermore, Lavalle's latent preoccupation with contemporary "issues" (addiction, terrorism, racism, religious hysteria, and the ennui of the modern workaday) offers a good way-in for readers more familiar with so-called Literary or Realist Fiction, to which Lavalle's stylistic choices (first person narrative, uncannily poetic reminiscences of early childhood, constantly informative biographical sub clauses that're kinda out-of-place and un-realistic in said first-person narrative etc.) also attest. So, hurrah; we're all invited.

Not that you'd know it from the book's design. I liked the non-representational blood red swirly cover art that functions as aesthetic call-back to the novel's trippy(/druggy) themes and graphically violent content; but the hyperbolic endorsements from Mos Def and Vanity Fair, the utterly nonsensical (and non-applicable) blurby references to the X-Men and the wannabe-candid-but-is-in-fact-obviously-posed off-centre b&w author snapshot suggest a hipster target audience perhaps more shallow and transient than Big Machine deserves, which is a shame, because it's a good book; rampant with a wry and self-aware wit so often lacking in Realist fiction, but also open to the supernatural vagaries, non-standard plotting and fearless engagement with unanswerable questions that's such a hallmark of the Weird.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alice Guest on 8 Nov. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have never read anything like this before in my life. It was a balance of realism and supernatural that I wouldn't have thought possible to achieve.
The characters, the storyline and the ideas were mostly rare or at least uncommon, especially the combination of all three. This made a refreshing change from most mainstream fiction I usually read, and I think that is what made it such an interesting and captivating read for me.
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Format: Paperback
Another reviewer once compared Victor LaValle with Haruki Marukami; I'll go further by saying that LaValle is the English language equivalent of Marukami, which he demonstrates in his great novel "Big Machine"; an intoxicating blend of genre with mainstream literary fiction. "Big Machine" evokes not only the surreal supernaturalism found in recent Murakami novels like "Kafka On the Shore", and "1Q84", but it also draws heavily from crime noir, horror and fantasy in creating a work that is compelling in its lyrically beautiful prose, richly drawn characters and settings, and also frightening in the degree to which LaValle draws upon the macabre; in short, what LaValle has written here is something that could be viewed as part of the "weird fiction" defined by China Mieville; indeed, in the most nightmarish passages of "Big Machine", readers will find events that are as bloody and surrealistic as those found in Mieville's recent "adult" fantasy novel "Kraken". More so than Murakami in the latter's most recent fiction, LaValle has created two memorable, and compelling, characters; down-on-his-luck hustler and recovering heroin drug addict Ricky Race and Adele Henry, a former prostitute with a history almost as dark as Ricky's, whose paths cross unexpectedly at the mysterious Washburn Library, the home of the "Unlikely Scholars", a ragtag band of ex-thieves and drug addicts who've become paranormal investigators intent on listening to "The Voice". LaValle demonstrates here that he is among the best prose stylists in contemporary American fiction, and one who courageously uses his great literary gifts to delve into the nature of faith and the state of race relations in the United States, since these are underlying motifs that reappear throughout "Big Machine". If H. P.Read more ›
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I am fascinated by the idea of cults and why people believe what they do (and although the library was never specifically mentioned as a cult it still had the aspects of it) and so I was drawn to this book after it was mentioned in another book I read. I loved the first part where they were in the library and nothing was ever mentioned about why they different people were there and what their role was - other than they all had past which they could be saved from (drug addict, alcoholic etc.), and so each person worked hard to gain approval from the library. After that it took a turn for the worse and went from the believable to the unbelievable, and without giving away any spoilers there was one main aspect to the plot which ruined it for me. I have no problem with the supernatural as we do not really know what is out there but some aspects simply didn't fit and made the story one from which I enjoyed and read desperately wanting to know what happened next to one where I wasn't overly bothered. It's a real shame that the second half of the story didn't match up to the first as the written style was good and really drew me into the world of paranormal-esque sightings, visions and hearings and how people respond to these in the real world.
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