One Dimension of How ‘Big Machine’ is Unique

As I progress further into this text, I am constantly left wondering why it is that our narrator, Ricky Rice, lets the reader in on information or narration at each moment that he does. Why does it take so long to discover certain aspects of his life or the lives of those around him? From an authoring standpoint, Victor LaValle is probably trying to keep his novel a real page-turner, almost impossible to put down because of that sense of wonderment and chaos (to great effect!) but why convey it through Ricky in this way? If we are meant to travel along his timeline with him, then why not begin with the story of the Washerwomen so that we understand what’s going through his mind as he doubts different things? I would still find the story gripping, if even those narrations were re-ordered, but at this point in the novel I believe that this text is treated more like gaining trust in a friend than gathering information to complete a plot.

Admittedly, I wish I read more than I already do. I truly enjoy fictional texts and works, and Victor LaValle’s Big Machine has been a fantastic read for me. From that limited knowledge of texts, however, I am used to a text following a relatively straightforward plot line. I’m used to being left out of certain knowledge in a text, but certainly not used to being left out of as much as we are in this novel. While it’s tempting to say that we are being exposed to information as it appears in the time progression, that’s not true at all! At almost every point in the text, there are two plots progressing: one in what we believe to be the present, and what that apparently has happened before the first one (I’m using ambiguous language here because my group discussed possible deus ex machina type endings that made me question the timeline of the novel, not because I know something that you readers do not. I digress).

I’m left wondering why exactly this is. Why would Ricky keep the reader in the dark on information that justifies his attendance at the Washburn Library until the closing parts of the novel? We even learned about Adele Henry’s past before some pieces of Ricky’s. I believe this is down to trust. I imagine treating this novel like a conversation with a friend, complete with witty side comments that don’t quite fit into the rest of the narration. There are moments of intimacy sprinkled in with moments of profundity that bring a degree of lightness to the read; moments like “Ah, Ms. Henry, you got away from me again” (LaValle 217).

If I look at the novel as a conversation with, initially, a stranger, then I am led to think that Ricky withholds specific information because of the information itself: he has learned to trust nobody but himself. The fact that he is sharing his story with a reader is intimate and should not be taken lightly in this mindset. Ricky is communicating with the reader, and will open up when he’s ready. This doesn’t quite explain why he jumps back and forth between plot lines (more LaValle keeping us guessing, I suppose), but it does explain his withholding of information throughout the novel as a theme. The reader at this point in the novel has gotten used to new and radical stories, concepts, characters, etc. being added in that now we feel like we can play the game, but I really believe that we’re still gaining momentum and trust right up until the last page of this novel. I’m truly excited to get there, and I hope to keep reading more novels in the future for sure!

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