The Epiphany Machine is hilarious. It’s a razor-sharp alternate history ... Venter’s circular arguments about himself and society are funny even when they’re depressing. Gerrard’s novel emphasizes just how desperately people want confirmation of their place in the world.
Gerrard is committed to giving us flawed, potentially unlikeable narrators at the forefront of each of his books, something I love ... the way The Epiphany Machine leapt from cult Boomer relic to adjacent to American paranoia ultimately worked for me–it was something of a narrative leap, but it clicked. And the section about two-thirds of the way through, where nearly every epiphany ends with but is stronger than terrorists seemed like a perfect (and unsettling) evocation of the early years of the Bush presidency.
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.