cover image The Epiphany Machine

The Epiphany Machine

David Burr Gerrard. Putnam, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-0-399-57543-3

Gerrard’s (Short Century) superb second novel has an exhilarating premise: what if there were a machine that could reveal your deepest secret—the uncomfortable truth about yourself you choose to overlook—by tattooing it on your forearm? The novel is composed of rules about the machine, testimonials, descriptions of quasiprophetic operator Adam Lyons, and excerpts from books by the mysterious Steven Merdula about the machine—but primarily the book is Venter Lowood’s memoir about coming of age in New York at the turn of the 21st century. Lowood contemplates and discusses American political history from the American Revolution to the War on Terror, raising questions about privacy, destiny, responsibility, and truth. Gerrard’s deft command of character, humor, and metaphor keep this intricate, philosophical novel fast-moving, poignant, and fun. In snarky banter, Venter and his best friend Ismail Ahmed communicate their deep affection and their playful rivalry, and in Venter’s tense conversations with his father (whose forearm reads “SHOULD NEVER BECOME A FATHER”) readers can see the painful legacy of the Lowoods’ encounters with Lyons and the machine. The figurative language is inventive and insightful: “Life is an extended freefall. An epiphany may help you see better.... Rather than a meaningless blur, you will see rocks and trees and lizards. An epiphany is not a parachute.” This is a wildly charming, morally serious bildungsroman with the rare potential to change the way readers think. (July)