big machine by victor lavalle

I want to say contemporary fantasy, but fantasy is the wrong word, maybe. Spiritual. I mean, the fantastical elements are there, but not central, and more a subtle mythology textured across the world than any set of governing ideas. The moments of strange are stronger for the space between them. Reminds me of superhero stuff in Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude. It’s a slow, somber build of a story.

Central characters are very well-developed, but the rest are sketches and the villain/s especially lack/s any solid threat. Their mission is ill-defined and inconsistent, which is interesting, but not as interesting as it could be.

Lots of flashbacks. Works well through the first 2/3, but the last third sees too many of varying lengths and structure and even dips into another character’s perspective for an extended one. It dicks with the pacing.

Revelations toward the finish feel inevitable and unsurprising.

Still, I enjoyed it for the strength of Ricky Rice’s character. He comes out of it stronger. Also, almost all the characters are black. I wouldn’t recommend reading it for that one reason, but it adds to the argument for me, having little exposure to that perspective and especially in fantasy. You can feel it in the character’s voices & vocabulary and there’s no a descent into stereotype or caricature. Refreshing.

Ending ties up the central story, sort of, but leaves plenty others hanging. Sequel? Thinking just of the character arc of Ricky Rice, it’s satisfying.


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