From The Washington Post:
In Victor LaValle's spectacular new novel, “Big Machine,” race and religion are the subterranean tributaries that threaten to destroy America's underclass, even as they help to sustain it. Along with Junot Diaz, Lev Grossman, Kelly Link and Kevin Brockmeier, LaValle is part of an increasingly high-profile and important cohort of writers who reinvent outmoded literary conventions, particularly the ghettos of genre and ethnicity that long divided serious literature from popular fiction. In that spirit, the epigraph for “Big Machine” is from John Carpenter's remake of “The Thing,” and in LaValle's acknowledgments he thanks not just Thomas Paine but also Octavia Butler, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and “my man Ambrose Bierce,” all of whom stand as spiritual godparents to this sprawling, fantastical work.
“Lurking in toilets was my job,” says Ricky Rice, the novel's narrator. Ricky is a 40-year-old janitor, a recovering junkie and childhood survivor of the Washerwomen, a communal religious cult whose catastrophic, bloody demise evokes that of the Branch Davidians and Philadelphia's MOVE organization. Ricky is cleaning a toilet stall in Utica, N.Y., when he opens a mysterious envelope addressed to him. Inside he finds a one-way bus ticket to Burlington, Vt., as well as a cryptic note: “You made a promise in Cedar Rapids in 2002. Time to honor it.”