Flesh is peeled, pried, burned, punctured. Torture plays a prominent role. Children are exploited, souls are gnawed away, and spirits are broken. Bullets fly, bodies are wrenched, mauled, mutilated and discarded so much so that Lavalle's main refrain takes on greater weight when it reappears, in extended form, from the mouth of one of Big Machine's main characters. "Human beings are no damn good!," the character says. "The despised become the despicable. God Damn! We worse than animals! We're like monsters."
Monsters. Big Machine has those too. Some wear suits, some wear shawls, some move between the shadows with vise-grip hands. The story is neither miserable nor grotesque, and it is proof of LaValle's genius that sympathy and forgiveness extends to the whole pitiful lot.
I've been following LaValle since I read his 1999 short story collection Slapboxing With Jesus (which takes its title from a Ghostface Killah quote), and followed it up by reading 2003's The Ecstatic (which in turn inspired Mos Def to title his latest album the same). Mos Def contributed a blurb to Big Machine, and the book's blurbs are telling: according to them, LaValle is Marquez mixed with Poe, or Marakami mixed with Ellison, or Bosch having a baby with Lenny Bruce. But I feel they all miss the mark I'm here to tell you that Victor LaValle is a believer in the unseen world. He has been there, and what he has brought back has affirmed my belief too. Yes, there are monsters out there, and what's an AfroSurrealist supposed to do?
"I guess we could lock ourselves in the bathroom and hide. Let someone else face the fight," says Ricky. "But we're not going to do that."