NK3 by Michael Tolkin


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In a fast-moving thriller that turns Los Angeles into a post-apocalyptic playground, Tolkin (The Return of the Player, 2006, etc.) weaves numerous storylines into a dark take on the aftermath of disaster.

Tolkin’s version of the near future hinges on an accidental epidemic caused by North Korea’s release of a weaponized nanobacterium that destroys people’s memories. As the human population swiftly loses the knowledge necessary to understand complex systems and technology, global civilization crumbles into scattered, isolated settlements. In Los Angeles, a small group of the self-proclaimed elite who have managed to partially regain or preserve their memories rule over a walled city that luxuriates in hedonistic excess. The novel’s plot focuses on a relatively conventional power struggle tied together with a lonely man’s search for the wife he is unable to remember. It reads with a swiftness and baldness that seem to invite adaptation for the screen more than pleasure in the imagination. Absurd scenes of extravagantly sexualized, tritely bohemian debauchery alternate with equally tired scenes of post-apocalyptic gloom from outside the city’s walls: abandoned buildings and dry swimming pools, the gritty ghost towns of lost civilization, complete with zombielike figures shambling the streets. The book is even broken into sections that are each titled with a list of the characters who will appear. It's easy to imagine the world of the book because it feels like a patchwork of gestures snatched from stories that we already know—the disaster thriller, the lonely quest, the political whodunit, the zombie apocalypse—but despite being proficiently plotted, with well-timed cliffhangers and tantalizing shifts between different threads, it lacks the energy and spirit to make familiarity come to life.

A competently constructed but often spiritless novel that doesn't fulfill the intriguing premise of a world brought down by the loss of memory.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2543-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2016


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