“Big Machine” engaged me in ways few books have. In a delightful paradox the end left me satisfied yet full of questions. It’s a weird story, for sure. It reminds me a little of Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore” and not only because libraries are central to both stories or that both narrators meet austere and powerful women. I think the main reason, other than the seamless mix of realism and the surreal, is that in both books the narrators are (or should be) unlikable and yet somehow the writers’ skill makes us care. I make this comparison, but “Big Machine” is a unique book with a glorious voice and deep insight.
Multiple timelines coexist across a story which mixes the gritty life of criminals with the divine. Our narrator, Ricky Rice, is a former heroin addict who as a child survived a suicidal Christian cult. The book is full of Ricky’s sharp wit and profound truths.
"A mother's reward for running away is hate, but a father's is adoration."
"Sometimes a man retreats so far inward he mistakes isolation for dominion."
are just two among many.
All the main characters are multi-layered and incredibly flawed. At times it is hard to sympathise with them, but it’s much easier to understand them. Central to the story are themes of religion and parenthood. It’s critical of religion and especially immersive cults. Big machines appear throughout, but I suspect the title refers to cults and cult leaders manufacturing obedient soldiers. Even the Washerwomen, who claimed to value doubt, relied on blind obedience.
I hope I’ve managed to convey how much I love this book without revealing any spoilers. Genre wise it sashays between horror, urban fantasy, magical realism and noir. I am certain if you enjoy the darker side of fiction you will love this book too. I can easily imagine it as a film by Jordan Peele.