Brian Evenson’s Immobility is an odd little trifle of a novel that spends its whole time hinting at bigger and frankly more interesting ideas while telling an extremely straightforward story. The entire book is, in essence, a single fetch quest. The protagonist, Josef Horkai, wakes up from cryogenic storage without any memory of his past and is told to cross a toxic post-apocalyptic landscape to retrieve a mysterious red cylinder by whatever means necessary. He goes, he comes back, the book ends. Yawn.
Okay, there are a few added complications, starting with Horkai’s lower-body paralysis (hence the title of the book), but none of them really contribute much. I mean, what exactly was the point of Horkai’s immobility? As far as I could tell its only purpose was to give Horkai some companions on his quest, in the form of two bizarre clones named Qanik and Qatik who take turns carrying him. But couldn’t Evenson have introduced these companions while giving Horkai the use of his legs — perhaps Q/Q could have carried some vital equipment or something? More fundamentally, if you’re going to force the reader to spend half of the book on a seemingly endless trek through a barren wasteland, try not to make two of the only three characters idiot savants! They’re boring as hell! Although I’ll admit that Q/Q have a few good lines (“Never know when you’ll need a good head,” one of them says deadpan while storing away a recently severed specimen).
To the extent that the story has any interest, it’s all in the back story: What happened in the apocalypse? What is going on with the strange society that produced Q/Q? Is Horkai human or something stranger? And what exactly is in the red cylinder that he is trying to retrieve?
As much as I like mysterious settings, it is a pain to read a dull story whose sole merit is drip-by-drip exposition. What makes matters worse is that the book’s explanations are incomplete at best (for instance, we find out what is in the red cylinder, but not why Horkai is such a strange being), and not really that inventive. I mean, how many post-apocalyptic fictions involve small, stunted societies that have turned ever more macabre in their efforts to survive? Believe me: a lot. Immobility joins that crowd without standing out from it.