The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard

The Epiphany Machine

David Burr Gerrard

A searing alternative history of New York city, from the 60s to the near future, in which a tattoo machine is rumored to inscribe insightful assessments on its users' forearms--with irreversible consequences.

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Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too.
That’s the slogan. The product: a junky contraption that tattoos personalized revelations on its users’ forearms. It’s an old con, playing on the fear that we are obvious to everybody except ourselves. This particular one’s been circulating New York since the 1960s. The ad works. And, oddly enough, so might the device...

A small stream of city dwellers buy into this cult of the epiphany machine, including Venter Lowood’s parents. This stigma follows them when they move upstate, where Venter can’t avoid the whispers of teachers and neighbors any more than he can ignore the machine’s accurate predictions: his mother’s abandonment and his father’s disinterest. So when Venter’s grandmother finally asks him to confront the epiphany machine and inoculate himself against his family’s mistakes, he’s only too happy to oblige.

Like his parents before him, Venter is quick to fall under the spell of the device’s sweat-stained, profane, and surprisingly charming operator, Adam Lyons. But unlike them, Venter gets close enough to Adam to learn a dark secret. There’s an undeniable pattern between specific epiphanies and violent crimes. And Adam won’t jeopardize the privacy of his customers by alerting the police.

It may be a hoax, but that doesn’t mean what Adam is selling isn’t also spot-on. And in this sprawling, snarling tragicomedy about accountability in contemporary America, the greater danger is that Adam Lyon’s apparatus may just be right about us all.

Advance Galley Reviews

Thank you to Penguin's First to Read Program for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review. The Epiphany Machine, by new author David Burr Gerrard, is the story of a tattoo machine that inscribes one’s inner-most insights onto his or her forearm. The story is told through the eyes of its protagonist, Venter Lowood, and shares an alternative history of New York City from the 60’s through present time. I thought the book was brilliant and it reminded me very much of Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing style, with its smart prose, imperfect characters, and unique plot. This book came along when I needed it to the most . . . I was in a rut reading the same story lines over and over again. The Epiphany Machine is unlike any story that I’ve ever read and I can honestly say that there will never be another book like it. The one chapter devoted to an examination of one of the 9/11 terrorist is one of the most intense (and uniquely written) chapters that I’ve ever read. This book may possibly be the next big thing, similar to how Foer’s “Everything is Illuminated” was for a similar new, young author.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from The Epiphany Machine having never read David Burr Gerard's work, but I loved having the chance to dive into something new here through the First To Read program. The alternative US history, the premise of a machine that tattoos people and the ideas of fate versus self determinism are fascinating. I wondered throughout if this was a case of 'which came first? Did the tattoos influence the life choices or just outline what was to come no matter what?' However, the writing style was difficult for me to engage in. I found myself distracted or having to go back and make sure I didn't miss something when there was an abrupt jump. I would give this solid 3 stars for creativity and unique subject matter

I was given a copy of "The Epiphany Machine" in exchange for an honest review about the book. I have been participating in the First to Read program through Penguin Random House for a while now and this may be the first time I am unable to articulate how exactly I felt about the book. When I first started reading it I didn't quite know what to expect, and now that I've finished it I do not know how to describe it. The portions of the book that had to do with the "history" of the machine were quite interesting as well as the testimonials Venter was gathering. I found the myriad of subplots haphazardly connected and were ultimately mostly distracting. There are many thought-provoking elements to this book, and the idea is certainly original, but I found myself grasping for conclusion at the end of the story. Perhaps the author intends for so many elements to be fantastical and unbelievable, but I found myself having to be convinced too much for a pleasurable read. Ultimately, I would give this book three stars. It is an interesting premise and a well-executed revisionist history but the all characters are irksome and make for an unenjoyable read.

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this story when I first opened the book, but as soon as I began reading the list of "things to consider before using the Epiphany Machine" it had me. I re-read the list twice, before diving in. I enjoyed the "history" or speculation of the "history" of where the Machine originated, is it a tool sent by "God"? Are the Nazis responsible for building it? Was Adam just a Cult Leader who programmed the Epiphanies? But the book really had me with the first Interview. The Epiphany Machine is not only a coming of age story for Venter Lowood, where after being told that the machine was evil and to not speak of it, his grandmother's dying wish is for him to use the machine. Once he does, his life takes twists and turns that not even he could have expected. The book serves as a look into ourselves as a society. We are quick to judge things that are out of the norm. Neurotic when our deep seeded flaws or what drives us is out for the word to see, only again to be judges by others even though we are trying to "be a better person". Quick to jump on the bandwagon for a cause and even quicker to tear someone down when we feel that they are "evil" for doing what they though was right in the face of impossible decisions. Are we sheep or are we the shepherd? A very enjoyable read.

I wasn't sure what to think when I first started reading this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found within the covers. The Epiphany machine divides humanity into factions of people based on the prophecy. Society is plagued by crime and blames all of its problems on the marks made by the machine. The premise of the book is not really that far fetched. People are judged by the tattoos and piercings that they inflict upon their bodies and what society determines that these say about the person as an individual. Adam has to make a decision whether he will report that certain epiphanies relate to criminal behaviors in a stratus of society. I really liked that this book was relational and current in its offerings.

3.5 stars. This science-fiction, revisionist history novel really captured my interest at first. The story follows Venter as he tries to navigate his childhood during the 60's after his mother has abandoned him and he's left with his grandmother to raise him. The epiphany machine is a taboo subject with his father, and the story follows both a written "history" of the epiphany machine and a coming-of-age story of Venter and his friends. Theories vary about the epiphany machine from a tool from God to a manipulation by a cult leader Adam Lyons. For believers, the machine inscribes each individuals deepest revelation as a tattoo on the forearm. Critics claim Adam does these tattoos of entirely his own volition. This was a complex and twisted read exploring themes of maturity, self-discovery, loyalty, and how we are compelled by others perspectives of us. The ending left me floundering as I felt there were things I would have liked resolved, otherwise this would have been a solid 4 star for me. For interesting and thought provoking read.

The premise of this novel is initially what drew me to review it. I enjoy counterculture periods, I live and love things set in NYC, and I will soon be an attorney (Big Law culture references and attorneys run rampant throughout the story). It begins with some quotes pulled from writers such as, Kafka and James Joyce, to set the tone and a list of 19 "things to consider before using the Epiphany machine." Do not skim it. Read the list in full because it reveals the types of characters you will not only meet along the way, but also serves as a commentary on humanity. There are several other stylistic forms you will discover on your journey: One is that all tattoos are announced in a bold, capitalized font. Another is that there are testimonials weaved throughout. Lastly, do not be surprised to find newspaper articles or book excepts as a break within the chapters. If you do not enjoy those sorts of explanatory sources in your fiction, do not let it stop you from reading it since it does not interfere with the text too much. The story is told through a first person narrative regardless of whether it is a testimonial (which would make sense), or the portion involving the protagonist. I do agree with some other reviews that the main character can be a bit unlikeable at times, and many of the anecdotes have leave you feeling bleak. The questions peppered throughout are meant to make readers pause and think (or at least that is what I gathered from them). The word choice is interesting, varying between simple and then a startling intelligent observation or more complex sentence, but that is not what forces readers to continue onward. The story itself is compelling because you want to know what is going to happen or where it is leading, but it takes almost the entire book, which could annoy some and the ending is kind of a tidy wrap-up. Do not pick this up if you are looking for a beach read, but I do recommend it if you are searching for something unique, worthy of reflection, and an interesting psyche experiment that strips down morals and tendencies of the human race.

This is one of the best books I've read that has been published within the last five years. It reminds me of a more reader-friendly Atrocity Exhibition. It weaves its own culture and real life culture (and history) together in a way I must liken to a full-body tattoo. The language used is wonderful and repeatedly surprising in specific word choice, continued/extended metaphor, and an insistence upon the reader to meta-read - I found myself experiencing multiple epiphanies. I would strongly recommend this to fans of Burroughs/Kafka/Ballard, punk subculture and those with similar interests, and recent graduates.

I really enjoyed this book. The premise is interesting and makes you want to keep reading. My main critiques would be that the main character is super-unlikeable, which might make you want to scream things at him, and the ending seems to be wrapped up too quickly. The book is 400 pages but it tries to wrap things up in the last 10 pages, and I wanted more resolution. But I still recommend it.

This is a book chocked full of allegories and symbolism. I understood the basic duality of the tattoos - do labels make us into something we aren't or do they propel us to be something completely opposite. I also understood how labels give the world an idea of us before they really know anything else about us. But this book delved much deeper and much farther than that and I'm not sure I'm smart enough to have figured it all out. While I felt like there was much more going on than I was actually understanding it was a really great story. Maybe a tad wordy, but most definitely thought provoking and completely enjoyable. This is a story that will stick with you for a while. My thanks to the publisher for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

The description of this novel presented here does not do the story justice. It's much more nuanced and weirdly philosophical than the plot summary indicates. There's a lot of bouncing around in the plot, with detours and side stories and subplots about users of the Infinity Machine, and there are leaps of logic you have to make to enter the parallel reality of the book, but all the strands come together to form a coherent comment about privacy, governmental authority, terrorism, individual responsibility, and the ties of family and friendship that bind and liberate the characters. In addition, the story is gripping in many ways, an involving and even at times suspenseful coming-of-age slash social drama. One hurdle many readers may have is that the narrator and central character, Venter Lowood, comes across as aggravatingly unlikable; he makes hair-tearing decisions and is very slow to come around to sense, and even then sometimes only tepidly. However, his thoughts and actions fit his character, and throw the book's essential moral viewpoint into sharper relief. I found myself thinking about the ideas in this novel long after I finished reading it, in a good way. It's an entertaining story of ideas.

When someone tells you not to do something, chances are you'll stubbornly do the opposite, despite how illogical that might be. In David Burr Gerrard's The Epiphany Machine the phrases inked on people's arms often play a heavy hand in their future actions. Venter Lowood's life has been irrefutably shaped by a machine that tattoos a vaguely specific epiphany on the forearms of each individual who uses it. His mother, who abandoned him when he was an infant, and his father, who told him never to go near or use the machine, both used the epiphany machine in their youth. Venter has conflicted feelings about the machine and how his epiphany might change his life's trajectory, but in using it, he becomes unexpectedly invested in it and the keeper of the epiphany machine, the eccentric Adam Lyons. Serving as a collector of stories of those who have used the machine and how it affected their lives, Venter plays a role in the machine's history and its potential future, with the government hoping that making epiphanies public could assist with civilian safety. While the premise of the story as an alternate history with a mystical element was highly intriguing, particularly as it offered a glimpse into the psyche of people and the conflicts they have with themselves, I found myself struggling to make progress through this slow-moving narrative, probably because practically nothing happens and what does happen didn't need to be drawn out as long as it was. If there wasn't going to be much in the way of developing a plot, then it would have been beneficial to have a complex, compelling character to follow, which we didn't have with Venter's annoying, constant self-doubting thoughts and timidly made actions; the various other characters' stories presented, while more interesting and insightful, were a bit jarringly disconnected from the rest of the narrative, despite being prefaced as testimonials. Overall, I'd give it a 2.5 out of 5 stars.


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