Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Epiphany Machine

Title:  The Epiphany Machine
Author:  David Burr Gerrard
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 432 pages.
ISBN:  039957543X / 978-0399575433

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The epiphany machine will not discover anything bout you that you do not, in some way, already know."

Favorite Quote:  "Almost anything could be tattooed on my arm and I would recognize it as a murmuring from the deepest part of my soul, because at some point or other I've wanted everything. I've wanted to be everyone. There have even been rare occasions when I have wanted what I am supposed to want and have wanted to be what I am supposed to want to be ... That's the entire reason the machine seems to work; anything that you can claim is in somebody's head has probably been there at some point. People feel a shock of recognition at the truth, but they feel a shock of recognition at a lot of other things, too."

Some books reach out and grab you. Some books leave you at the end untouched. Then, there are the few that just sit. Usually, I read a book in a couple of days either if I am engrossed or if I just want to get to the end. Rarely, I encounter a book that sits on my nightstand for days or weeks. I pick it up and put it down. I restart it. I pick it up and put it down. I eventually finish, but it takes a while. The Epiphany Machine became one of those books.

The premise of the book sounds wonderful and grapples with philosophical questions. A machine exists that that will tattoo on your arm a truth about you. Do you want to know? Do you perhaps already know what the machine will write?

The perspective in the book is mostly from the viewpoint of Venter Lockwood. He is a child at the beginning of the book; both his parents have used the machine. His father's tattoo reads, "Should never become a father," and his mother's tattoo reads, "Abandons what matters most." Both tattoos impact Venter's life because how could words like that taken at face value not impact a child The question I expect to see explored is whether the epiphany machine is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Does the machine write what is embedded in a an individual or does the writing cause the person to believe that about themselves and make decisions in that light, forever altering the course of their lives? What is the ripple effect of these decisions on the people who surround them?

The book doesn't quite go in that direction. It seems to turn more in a way to explore history through the lens of the epiphany machine. What might have been the tattoo on the arms of historical figures? What is the cultural phenomenon of the epiphany machine? Why do people want to know? What are they hoping to gain? Again, intriguing questions.

The book does not quite commit in that direction either as the story narrows down to Venter and his life and to a memoir like approach to his search for his own history and the history of his parents with the epiphany machine. The story follows him from childhood to middle age. It is here that the book gets bogged down. Venter is neither a likable nor a really interesting character. His story also gets into entirely unnecessary graphic descriptions of personal encounters. Unfortunately, his story ultimately finds not a defining moment or closure. Is his life defined by the revelations of the epiphany machine? Is his life defined by the fact that he gives meaning to these revelations? Is there indeed truth in the machine or is belief what drives its success?

For many, the word "epiphany" has religious meaning. The word itself can also mean "a moment of sudden revelation or insight" however that insight may manifest itself. I suppose that is what I expected from this book - a moment where it all comes together, where it perhaps leaves a life lesson, or where it perhaps has a dramatic pause. Unfortunately, although the book probes a wide array of intriguing questions, that epiphany never comes.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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