cover image Big Machine

Big Machine

Victor LaValle, . . Spiegel & Grau, $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-385-52798-9

LaValle has garnered critical acclaim for his previous works (a collection, Slapboxing with Jesus , and novel, The Ecstatic ), and his second novel is sure to up his critical standing while furthering comparisons to Haruki Murakami, John Kennedy Toole and Edgar Allan Poe. Gritty, mostly honest-hearted ex-heroin addict protagonist Ricky Rice takes a chance on an anonymous note delivered to him at the cruddy upstate New York bus depot where he works as a porter. Quickly, Ricky finds himself among the “Unlikely Scholars,” a secret society of ex-addicts and petty criminals, all black like him, living in remote Vermont and sifting through stacks of articles in a library devoted to investigating the supernatural; the existence of a god; and the legacy of Judah Washburn, an escaped slave who claimed to have had contact with a higher being that the Unlikely Scholars now call “the Voice.” Ricky's intoxicating voice—robust, organic, wily—is perfect for narrating LaValle's high-stakes mashup of thrilling paranormal and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man , as the fateful porter—something of a modern Odysseus rallied by a team of “spiritual X-men”—wanders through America's “messianic hoo-hah.” (Aug.)