Reviews

The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard is “Kafkaesque” and other things that happened

The Epiphany Machine Book Cover The Epiphany Machine
David Burr Gerrard
Science Fiction
Putnam
2017
415

It's 60's New York City and you have the option to get your worst fear (and most burning question) tattooed on your forearm, for everyone to see. Would you do it?

Much like the last book I reviewed,  David Burr Gerrard imagines a world just like ours but with one important change. The Epiphany Machine takes place roughly from the 1970’s to present day. It stars a small host of characters that keep reappearing to fulfill multiple roles, even though the events are set in New York City, but it focuses on the life of one young man in particular– Venter Lowood.

Venter

You will hate Venter Lowood. As I’ve mentioned in a prior blog post, there is nothing wrong with a terrible main character as long as the other characters recognize that the protagonist is a terrible person. Gerrard delivers (but I’ll get to that later.)

Venter blames his poor choices on his mother’s abandonment and later, his Epiphany tattoo. The Epiphany Machine is a tattoo machine that most of Gerrard’s fictional world associates with a cult. Of its own accord, it inscribes the worst, yet most insightful thing about who you are permanently on your forearm.

A message from God(?)

These tattoos are vague. They get a rep for being glorified horoscopes: they could apply to anyone. But those who get near the machine (located in a greasy guy’s apartment) seem unusually drawn to get the tattoo anyway. And once they do, they know instantly the machine is some sort of message-writing device from the heavens, and the message on their forearm is a message from God. They still invariably end up hating their tattoos. Many tattoos ruin lives. Venter’s tattoo, “Dependent upon the opinion of others,” is especially tiresome because he doesn’t know whether to escape from it or succumb to it.

The Epiphany Machine puts a new spin on tired biblical themes. In fact, the book is eclectic and almost promiscuous with its themes. It’s threaded with feminist undertones, and it deals a surprising amount with the events of 9/11. In fact, The Epiphany Machine appears to deal radically with our treatment of Muslims and women in this country and the result is a surprisingly new and (in my opinion) welcome approach.

Venter again (or, His Own Worst Enemy!)

The Epiphany Machine is cynical and sometimes heart-wrenching. But that’s why Venter Lowood makes for such an interesting main character—he really stirs the pot. The people he hangs out with are infinitely cooler than him, and one can’t help but wonder how the novel would be different if it was written from one of their perspectives. (Venter does “interview” these people, which is the only time we really get full ideas on their pasts and thoughts.)

But I really like the direction David Gerrard took by making Venter the center of attention. Venter is his own worst enemy. He is the protagonist and the antagonist. And I don’t mean that his conflict is one of internal struggle—I mean Venter sometimes comes out of left field with his actions. It’s torturous, but compelling. And rest assured, the people that Venter try to “impress” often scrutinize him for being awful.

Mixing our worlds

Among the famous people to get an Epiphany tattoo is John Lennon (I don’t remember what it was, only that it was cool and John Lennon-ey. You’ll have to read the book to find out.)  We even get a portion of “his” view-point. There’s speculation by some of the fictional world that one of the Beatle’s songs “Happiness is a Warm Gun” was inspired by the Epiphany machine. How innovative is that, though? Gerrard did his homework when it comes to muddling the line between fiction and reality.

Yes, Gerrard’s The Epiphany Machine is Kafkaesque. I know that because it was written on the cover of the book. But as literary as I am, I know very little about Kafka other than that he has his own personal style and it’s called “Kafkaesque.” So, here’s the best I can do:

Recommendation: The Epiphany Machine is a novel for philosophers who like to read fiction.

If you’re interested in The Epiphany Machine, you can buy it on Amazon (I’ll get a small commission if you do, but you won’t pay an extra cent.) And check out my last book review and recommendation of The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller.

Click one of these buttons. Go on. See what happens.

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