I picked up Victor Lavalle’s Big Machine and could not put it down. I know, I know, everyone and their mother uses that cliché to describe a great book. But for me, this is few and far between. While I love a well written novel, honestly it’s the first twenty pages that makes or breaks a book for me. If I can’t get into it within that span, chances are I will abandon it and continue my hunt for the next big score. So what hooked me? Fluid, seamless prose. A flawed character that intrigued me within the first paragraph. And as the plot developed, an original modern day constructed folklore and mythology.
There are few authors that have successfully created an original folklore, an original mythology. Melville created something akin with the ‘white whale’, Cormac McCarthy built upon the untamed, Wild West trope, and of course Tolkien created Middle Earth. And I would be remiss not to mention Marquez’s absolutely sublime One Hundred Years of Solitude . But what about contemporary authors? And how would one do such while still working within the confines of the modern or the postmodern tradition?
Big Machine is a tale of hard luck, bad luck, and the despised. The homeless man on the corner, the drug addict, even children raised in a cult; all these ‘others’, those marginalized by society, have an important role in Big Machine . In fact, these ‘others’ star front and center. Lavalle creates characters empowered to take their life back from crime and addiction, while simultaneously celebrating hard earned success and questioning the ‘American Dream’.
Taking cues from slave narratives, Native American folklore, and a big heap of the supernatural, Lavalle created a mythology much larger than the sum of its parts. Lavalle’s fluid writing is deceptive. On the surface his prose style seems plaintive, but there’s meat in there. More than a couple times I found myself choking not on lyrical beauty, but rather the most superbly developed characters.
This book is for anyone who has ever felt marginalized, cast aside. But also for those who have a taste for magical realism and the surreal. Highly recommended!