Big Machine: The New Novel I’m Most Excited About Reading


Every Tuesday the new books arrive at my store. I get to slice open the boxes, pull out the books, price them and arrange them in the most appealing and eye-catching way possible.

Because I don’t personally order them, it’s often a surprise what it’s inside. A tremendously exciting surprise that reduces me to a kid at Christmas, or a drunk in a new bar.

But even before that there is the swift river of rumor that comes from the devoted customers, those that have heard an interview on NPR with a certain author and now need to buy his or her book. Do we have it? they ask. Can we get it?

Lately, all I’ve been hearing is: “Do you have Big Machine by Victor Lavalle?”

“Do you?!” Those wild, entreating eyes full of booklust that never fail to make me believe I’m in the right industry.

It was one of those wonderful people who comes in every other day with both beautiful child and wonderful dog in tow, who browses with true enthusiasm, who asks me about my day and what I’m reading and who usually ends up buying something, be it a book, a magazine, a greeting card or a map.

“What’s it about?” I asked naively.

“Well,” he said, “apparently it’s about an ex-junkie who cleans bathrooms, who used to be part of some Branch Davidian-like cult and who gets a mysterious message to join some other weird group of paranormal investigators who, apparently, have been hearing some weird god-like Voice. It’s got everything: race relations, cult religions, drugs, the paranormal, urban blight, love, sex, God, poverty, the whole gamut.”

“Oh my God!” I said, “I’ll promptly order those right now.”

The next day it was the same: “Big Machine?!”And the week after too: “BIG MACHINE?

Imagine my delight when I found out Victor Lavalle has been compared to both Thomas Pynchon and Ralph Ellison, Junot Diaz and Shirley Jackson.

But comparisons, although enticing, never tell the whole story: if anything, Lavalle seems to be his own vision, a new, brave and daring one.

Listen to the NPR segment that set the snowball rolling.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →