Book Review : Brian Evenson - Immobility (2012)
There is an imaginary abyss between easy and intelligent narratives for contemporary audiences. It's like they cannot exist in the same world. This is a false dichotomy, of course and my new favorite weapon against it is the writing of American author Brian Evenson, which I discovered earlier this year. Evenson has penned iconic novels such as Last Days and The Open Curtain, which are lean and unflinching, yet are heavy with meaning latent to their narratives. They're enlightening to pick apart, full of surprises and most important: a lot of fun. I wanted to read at least another Brian Evenson book to close the year in style and picked up his 2012 post-apocalyptic novel Immobility and it did not disappoint.
Immobility is set a generation removed from the apocalypse. Nobody quite remembers what happened then, but the occurrence is referred to as the Kollaps. Josef Horkai wakes up in a compound, paralyzed and partially amnesiac. He was "stored" for several years in an attempt to slow down the degenerative disease that is slowly rendering him immobile. Horkai has been pulled from storage for a purpose: Retrieving a cylinder containing the seed for a new world from Granite Mountain. Horkai is the only person capable of completing this mission because he's not like the others: He does not suffer the ravages of the toxic environment and can remain outside for extended periods of time. Horkai is assisted in his quest by two large men wearing hazmat suits named Quanik and Quatik, who are tasked with transporting him.
The best thing about Immobility is the multiple readings if offers. Nothing should be taken at face value in this book. What's important to understand is that Josef Horkai is a Messianic figure. He was pulled from storage for one purpose: saving the human race from extinction. I wouldn't say Immobility is a proper religious allegory, but mythological elements keep showing up in the novel like they do in the Bible: Horkai is tasked with accessing "the other side", where human being are not allowed to go and has to take brutal decisions out of that latent sense of responsibility. While the savior allegory is not uncommon in post-apocalyptic novels, it's Brian Evenson self-reflective stance on it that creates a unique atmosphere for Immobility. His explorations of sacrifice and moral responsibility are fascinating.
"That's the whole problem. Names, categories, divisions. Once you label something, you learn how to hate it. Human, not human. If you're not one, you're the other, and then you and the others can hate each other." He turned to look at Horkai. "You have to understand," he said, "that we're neither human nor not human."
"What are we, then?" asked Horkai.
"We just are," said Rytke."Why can't that ever be enough?"
The relationship between religion and people (the sacred and the profane if you will) is crucial in Immobility. The human survivors have created themselves a narrative from the arbitrary decisions of their leader Rasmus, which is quintessential to their survival as a species. They're taking his word as face value, which is exactly what Horkai doesn't do and that's why his perception of reality keeps changing and evolving as the novel goes along. The complete portrait of the situation is only accessible through the juxtaposition of clashing perspectives. Not only Immobility highlights the power of religion over people (many novels have done it in a more dramatic way), but it also highlights the power of Judeo-Christian tropes over audiences and I believe this is the real legacy of Immobility right there.
Immobility is not a complicated novel in its essence. It just carefully avoids being about what post-apocalyptic novels usually are about: endurance of the human spirit and political anxieties. Brian Evenson merely used the idea of a post-apocalyptic world to create a setting where language, narratives and human judgement would be the primary currencies. There are no literal monsters in Immobility. There isn't even an "other" because is it written from the perspective of the "other". Brian Evenson successfully leaves you alone with your own judgement in Immobility. It's not meant to lead you towards any prefabricated conclusions. There is no "life lessons" here. Just a set of interconnected ideas to help you better position and define yourself philosophically. This novel should be thought in Critical Thinking 101.