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Publisher's Summary

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 Lyons' apparatus may just be right about us all.

©2017 David Burr Gerrard (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“This is a wildly charming, morally serious bildungsroman with the rare potential to change the way readers think.” (Publishers Weekly [starred review])

“Hilarious. [A] razor-sharp alternate history...Gerrard's novel emphasizes just how desperately people want confirmation of their place in the world.” (The Washington Post)

“An affecting exploration of fate and the clash of our private and public selves...ambitiously wrestling in the muck of big questions. A pleasurably speculative yarn about family and ethics.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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Profile Image for W Perry Hall
  • W Perry Hall
  • 01-08-2017

A New Entry into Pantheon of NYC Cult Classics?


Enlightenment comes to the most dull-witted.
Franz Kafka, In the Penal Colony

Words are like weapons: they wound sometimes.
Diane Warren, If I Could Turn Back Time

From epigraphs to The Epiphany Machine.


My first thought is actually a question considering that this novel is great and somewhat similar to, and likely even better than, 2016's The Nix. Mr. Gerrard, who teaches creative writing in NYC at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop, hits our contemporary culture right between the eyes, as did Nathan Hill in The Nix. So, my question: is Random House--whose imprint published The Nix--that much better at pushing their books than Penguin's imprint for The Epiphany Machine? Where is the Love? I should probably say here that no one pitched this novel to me, or gave me a free copy of it; I bought it after reading a few rave reviews.

Perhaps the initial hesitation of reviewers and readers alike to pick up this literary gem comes from the sci-fi element in it. The plot surrounds a contraption discovered by its owner in the 1960s that will tattoo your epiphany on your inner forearm, a sort of modern-day oracle in a way, whose customer list has included John Lennon and a number of other luminaries. Set in NYC, mainly from the late 1990s to the present, the sales pitch for the machine in its early years was *Everyone else knows the truth about you, now you can know it, too.* The idea, in theory, is that *once you know your biggest secret, you can accept it* and consider it as a revelation of self to help you go through life, or something like that.

For example, the epiphany of the protagonist Venter Lowood, both of whose parents were among the earliest recipients of epiphany tattoos, is *dependent on the opinion of others.* Epiphanies can be much more vague though, such as that on Venter's best friend, *Likes to blow things up,* who, as a budding playwright, the friend took to mean blowing up his mother's expectations of him becoming a physician and of him marrying a girl of his own faith.

Mr. Gerrard makes this centerpiece work as a believable machine that people want to use and creates a credible growing importance of the machine in contemporary culture, much as he makes the characters seem real and true.

In any case, the sci-fi element should be a reason for even more chatter rather than a cause for pause. Consider that quality sci-fi/lit genre-benders come along only every so often and the good ones have actually rocked the world: See, e.g., Brave New World, 1984, Frankenstein, The Handmaid's Tale, the works of Franz Kafka, Slaughterhouse-Five, Fahrenheit 451 and The Road, and resulted in literary acclaim and/or moderate commercial successes of late such as Life After Life, The Plot Against America, Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, Murakami's novels and The Time Traveler's Wife.

This fascinating and brilliantly inventive bildungsroman moves quickly and keeps up the interest with well-developed characters and strong, morally intricate storylines. The novel touches upon issues of accountability, truth, destiny, privacy, responsibility, our inability to see what is obvious to everyone but ourselves, and our susceptibility to our ancient enemy in our self-rationalization of morally wrong actions. It is full of allusions and similarities in tone to Joyce, Kafka and Wm. Burroughs, as well as smart nods to literature and writing.

My one complaint--that the transition into the post-9/11 abuses didn't seem to quite fit--is far outweighed by the book's poignancy, its intriguing characters, its crystalline critiques of contemporary American culture, and the fun of reading it.

I highly recommend this one, which some are saying may end up a Cult Classic.

17 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for james
  • james
  • 19-01-2018

What a Surprise: Great Audiobook

Would you consider the audio edition of The Epiphany Machine to be better than the print version?

I have not read the print version, but I would guess that the audio edition is better since Ari Fliakos narrates this book.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Adam Lyons because his character adds the right amount of comedy to this book.

What about Ari Fliakos’s performance did you like?

This is my fourth audiobook by Ari. He is the best narrator I've heard on Audible. I probably would not have downloaded this title unless I'd seen that Ari narratied it. I'm glad I did. The story was great.

Who was the most memorable character of The Epiphany Machine and why?

Adam Lyons was the most memorable because he owns the mysterious Epiphany Machine.

Any additional comments?

For anyone who loves a great story that is paired with great narration, this is a title for you. The Epiphany Machine is well-written, clever, and interesting. It's early in 2018, but, for me, this is the best audiobook so far. Stay tuned.

11 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for D C.
  • D C.
  • 12-08-2017

Predestined or Free Will

Do we live up to or into what is in our arm/soul. The Epiphany Machine looks often painful at how one defines or lives there lifes. The machine at no cost$ inks a phase that can wreak or in hance your life. The book weave in stories from the machine along with the sad,/depressed life of the narrator. Who's tattoo "Dependent on the opinions of others" lives into the that phase. His life is flat and the narrator Fliakos reads it that way which fits. The book in takes a turn in later chapter to a dystopian future where big business takes over the machine. I becomes a money making venture. Everyone feels compelled or coherenced to get a tatt. The book feels rushed at the end to wrap things up.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-05-2021

I’ve never given a 1 star review until now

This book has a promising idea and a lot of potential, but was just so bad. None of the characters were likable, they all made bad decisions, lots of f-bombs, a really weird sex scene seemed designed to gross out anyone from ever renting out their home again or using Airbnb, an unnecessary torture scene, narrator changes accent in the middle of some sentences and does female characters in a regular male voice, a horrible ending...ugh, just so much ugh...

1 person found this helpful

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  • George
  • 09-05-2021

Clunky

Imagine if Kurt Vonnegut wrote Forrest Gump. Now this book isn’t as good as Kurt Vonnegut or Forrest Gump. While having a few interesting ideas and a somewhat clever premise this book devolves into needless emotional rants. I feel like this book never wanted to enjoy itself.

1 person found this helpful

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Profile Image for Maureen Skube
  • Maureen Skube
  • 01-05-2020

meh

Wanted to like but....the author left my mind no room to breath or observe the characters. The so called ephipany machine is a device used only to explore a fairly mundane family drama. The politics and alleged social implications are only explored as to how they affect our pretty uninteresting routine 'cosmopolitan' new york city characters. Now that im done....im frankly relieved i get to move on.

1 person found this helpful

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Profile Image for Steven
  • Steven
  • 28-07-2017

Get your epiphany, now

What made the experience of listening to The Epiphany Machine the most enjoyable?

My wife and I decided to experiment and listen to The Epiphany Machine together. As luck would have it, the book is fabulous. We couldn't stop listening and got through half the book the first day.

What did you like best about this story?

The Epiphany Machine is a unique and inventive book that should not be missed. It is mysterious and humorous. Yes, it is also thought provoking, which is always a good thing. Highly recommended.

7 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Charles R. Gross
  • Charles R. Gross
  • 22-07-2017

Best book in a while

In a book where I hate the main character so much, probably because he is as almost exactly like me, I love the book. Hope nobody reads any of these reviews before reading it. I am glad I just bought it and listened on just the strength of the sample. Since I share the same major flaw as the main character I am sure it would have been spoiled by other people's opinions.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Ellen
  • 29-07-2017

A moving and thought-provoking alternate history

An eloquent, multi-layered, and chilling story about the wonders and horrors of technology on American culture and politics. Stellar performance by the narrator. Highly recommended!

3 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Anonymous User
  • Anonymous User
  • 21-06-2021

loved it

I'm not smart enough to write into words how great this story and the performance was. don't hesitate. just get it and listen.

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