The Epiphany Machine
What if there was a magical machine that tattooed upon your arm a deep truth about yourself?
DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS
MUST MAKE DIFFERENT USE OF HANDS
HIDES WHAT MATTERS MOST
Etc., etc... That is the plot of David Burr Gerrard's novel, set in New York in the 90s, interweaving historical events with "the epiphany machine" run by a mysterious man named Adam. The protagonist of the novel, Venter, has a fraught relationship with the machine: both his parents have epiphany tattoos. His father's: SHOULD NEVER BECOME A FATHER and his mother's ABANDONS WHAT MATTERS MOST had a clear impact on his life (his mother disappeared shortly after his birth).
The novel follows Venter growing up, eventually getting an epiphany tattoo of his own in high school, and working for the machine's owner. There was a lot I liked about the novel: an interesting premise, grappled with 9/11 in a way I hadn't seen before, and I love a good antihero. But there was also a lot I didn't like: an over reliance on chapters structured as testimonials or news reports ("SHOW, DON'T TELL"), very male-centric- the female characters were extremely one-dimensional, and a frustrating focus on the Beatles. (Idk, felt disjointed). As Kirkus Reviews writes, "As the plot enters the 21st century, Gerrard picks up storylines involving 9/11, the war on terror, and online algorithms that seem to know a little too much about us. That range makes the novel feel somewhat uncentered, a problem exacerbated by Gerrard's multitude of storytelling modes (testimonials, news reports, book excerpts). When it sticks to Venter's perspective, though, it’s an affecting exploration of fate and the clash of our private and public selves."
Regardless, it was a fun, quick read and an interesting premise. Rating: ★★★