Ricky Rice is a down-on-his-luck former heroin addict who works as a janitor at a bus depot and focuses on just getting by. But this quickly changes when he receives a one-way bus ticket to Vermont from an unknown source in the mail, along with a note that enigmatically tells him the time has come to honor a secret promise he once made. Summoning all of his courage and going along for the ride, Ricky finds himself part of a rag-tag band of investigators, tasked with finding and following a divine Voice in modern-day America. Soon, Ricky embarks on a journey that will forever change his life, as he faces the demons from his past and even battles a few new ones along the way—all the while grappling with the big questions of faith, doubt, race, class, sex and all the little ones in between.

To say any more would do a disservice to Big Machine, since half the fun for the reader is being sucked into the whirlpool of Ricky’s awe-inspiring adventure. Hysterical yet heartbreaking, playful yet pensive, bleak yet hopeful, Victor LaValle’s novel masterfully blends these contrasting elements to produce a rich and rewarding literary experience. LaValle shines a light onto the shadowed fringes of society, tackling the gritty and grimy aspects of life with just the right mix of brash wit and tender compassion. A motley amalgam of sci-fi, mystery, and crime noir, Big Machine transcends the boundaries of standard literary fiction and defies readers’ expectations at every turn. Fantasy and reality constantly mingle, but the core issues—though messy and complicated—are undeniably human.

Wildly creative but always believable, it’s little wonder LaValle has developed a diverse following, ranging from Pulitzer-winning author Michael Cunningham to rap artist Mos Def. With Big Machine, LaValle has created a novel that makes you feel as much as it makes you think, proving that he is not just a writer to watch, but a writer to read.

Stephenie Harrison lives and writes in Nashville.

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