Tag Archives: New York City

The Epiphany Machine

The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard (Penguin Books, 2017)

Although this book sounds like it might be science fiction from the title, it isn’t really. It’s just that a small piece of alternative history involving a tattoo machine that puts “epiphanies” onto people’s forearms has been inserted into ordinary 21st century New  York City life. These messages are chosen by the machine, or possibly the machine’s operator, it’s not clear; not by the person who asks for a tattoo. The messages declare in a sentence or phrase some fundamental truth about the person’s character.

The protagonist of this novel is a man whose whole life revolves around the stories of people who get these tattoos (his parents, to start with) and what happens to them as a result. Said main character is basically a lazy person who spends most of his time thinking about or having sex, so writing about the epiphany machine (in a story-within-the story) is a great excuse for not accomplishing anything with his life. If you’re like me and instinctively dislike people like that, you will probably not enjoy this book. I didn’t. Your mileage may differ.

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We are not ourselves

We are not ourselves by Matthew Thomas (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

Unlike the reviewers quoted on the back cover, I found this novel to be quite depressing. But in spite of the somber tone and epic length, there was something compelling about it. I kept reading when I intended to put it down, because I wanted to know what happened to the characters. Did Eileen ever get her dream house? Did Ed become successful? Did they figure out why Ed behaved so oddly? What happens to Connell when he grows up? It’s certainly not escapist fiction – it takes place in a very ordinary twentieth century New York City, probably very familiar to readers who live there. For any middle-aged or older American, it’s the life story of a family we feel like we could have known. Maybe that’s why it’s so depressing: it feels like real life.

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