Still Here, Still Doubting Faith

Wow. I have so much admiration for Victor LaValle’s story-telling in Big Machine, and so I constantly keep it in conversation wherever I am, and whoever I am with. Every time I raise a question or make a point about the book in regard to where I am in my reading at the moment, Lavalle addresses that same point again later on in the book. What I am thinking about here is faith.

A couple of blog posts ago, I explored Ricky’s faith in the Washerwomen and questioned whether it had failed him. I noticed that after the scene in which the police had come charging into their building, Ricky ceased to mention the Washerwomen. He ends this memory with a note to his readers: “Our community ended that night.” (216) I know that Ricky has a complicated relationship with faith, often doubting it, but after this scene I just assumed this relationship had failed him. Because the Washerwomen were unable to offer physical protection to Ricky in that moment when the police arrived, I assumed his spiritual protection had been severed, too.

How wrong was I?

Lavalle’s novel is filled with repetition and recursion, through and through. Just when I had believed the Washerwomen’s community and impact had “ended,” Ricky addresses how “valuable” his religion has always been and will continue to be. He says, “Strip away all the magic and what does religion teach? There’s something greater than you in this world…” “… When I invest too much in my own powers, I rely on what the Washerwomen taught me. Doubt grinds up my delusions.” (366)

Now that I am reflecting back on this passage, I am realizing how this book has caused me to contradict myself and impose my own doubts on the narrative. While I addressed my doubt in Ricky’s faith in that blog post, when we read this passage in class, I was the one to remind several of my classmates that just because Ricky had a complicated relationship with faith, the Washerwomen are still a key part of his identity. “Their history can’t be erased,” I said.

But now here I am again, talking in circles. Here I am, switching between past and present trying to find a coherent way to explain both my certainty and my doubt. I’m still wondering just how much Ricky’s religion has impacted him. Even though Ricky informed us on the very last page. What is it? Am I allowed to make judgement on Ricky’s faith in the Washerwomen? It seems like even if their presence is gone, their ideologies are still a large part of his life. But can their ideologies offer the same protection they once did?


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