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.