"Humans are poison. Perhaps it would be better if we did not exist at all.”
– Immobility by Brian Evenson
When Josef Horkai – which may or may not be his real name – is reawakened into a world effectively poisoned to death by radiation (a cataclysmic event known as the Kollaps), he is told by the enigmatic leader of a small underground community, located presumably in northern Utah, that his mission, as insane as it sounds, is to travel to a place almost 50 miles away, retrieve a cylinder carrying invaluable seed that was allegedly stolen from their hive-like society, and return it asap.
Once the journey begins, it’s a typical and, for the most part, unremarkable post-apocalyptic narrative; description of a devastated landscape (“The sky was bleak with haze, and a wind blew, hot and indifferent...”), the proverbial doll’s head in the rubble, etc.
• “We’re here with the sacred calling of watching over the records, of preserving them and keeping them safe…”
But even though the post-apocalyptic element wasn’t exactly unique, this novel’s skull-crushing power was found in the unrelenting darkness of Evenson’s narrative (most post-apocalyptic novels have a glimmer of hope somewhere, this novel had none) and the intensity – and insightfulness – of his social commentary. Immobility is a cautionary tale warning humankind of itself.
• “The problem with faith… is that there’s no arguing with it.”
• “We’re a curse, a blight. First we gave everything names and then we invented hatred…”
• “Finger of God, Horkai thought. Not [expletive] likely. More like the finger of the Devil. Or, even worse, no finger at all.”
• “It’s only one step from there to slavery, and once you think of humans as animals… we become a disposable commodity, war a commonplace. Add in a dominant religion that preaches the end of the world and holy books that have been used to justify atrocity after atrocity, and you’re only a step away from annihilation. It’s better not to let society develop at all, to leave each person on their own, alone, shivering, and afraid in the dark.”
While Immobility didn’t have the thematic impact of other comparable post-apocalyptic novels (Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Heinlein’s Farnham's Freehold, McCarthy’s The Road, etc.), I would still recommend this novel to fans of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction on the strength of the shocking conclusion alone.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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