child of the washerwomen


“My country is my family,” writes Ricky Rice as he concludes his apologia pro vita sua — a.k.a Victor LaValle’s massive, heroically strange new novel, “Big Machine” (Spiegel & Grau: 378 pp., $25). “I like America.” There’s something both dissonant and grin-tuggingly candid in his plainspoken admission. Ricky, after all, is an ex-(more or less) heroin addict; a onetime cash mule; an itinerant janitor who’s cleaned the toilets in several of upstate New York’s less-than-glamorous train stations; a now-chaste former serial impregnator of women; and one of the few child escapees of the charismatic religious cult led by three (weird) sisters called the Washerwomen. Not to mention all the bizarreness and violence that pack these pages. Yet, even as we’d half-expect any patriotic sentiment of his to be along the lines of, say, Allen Ginsberg’s “America” — “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing” — his proclamation seems just right. That “like” is perfect — a modest verb in place of the chest-thumping “love.” For a book with a dazzling array of flashy moving parts — secret societies, backstories toggled for maximum effect, angels and demons, suicide squads recruited from among the homeless — the language is more effective for being low key.

more from Ed Park at the LA Times here.