Phenomenal word of mouth regarding a new novel is not always justified, but it most assuredly is in the case Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, a truly phantasmagorical experience that is quite unlike anything you will have encountered before. Comparisons have already been made with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Edgar Allen Poe, which perhaps gives some indication of the territory covered here, but it’s the merest indication of the bizarre and immersive experience of the book. The anti-hero of LaValle’s novel is middle-aged junkie Ricky Rice, who has survived a terminal involvement in a suicide cult and now ekes out an existence working as a porter in a New York bus depot. He receives a letter reminding that he made a grim vow in his past, and ordering him to travel to a remote part of Vermont to discharge his obligation. But on arrival, Ricky finds himself involved with a group of paranormal investigators — ex-addicts and criminals like himself, all of whom have heard the ‘Voice’, which may or may not (they consider) be God speaking to them. At the end of a sometimes hilarious and often nightmarish journey, Ricky is confronted with the extremes of belief and madness.

Apart from the sheer exhilaration produced by this nicely ill-mannered narrative, the offkilter pleasures afforded by Big Machine include both a truly dark sardonic vision of the world and a lacerating analysis of the truly sinister side of faith and belief. LaValle is very much a writer to watch.

Big Machine is published by No Exit Press

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