cover image NK3


Michael Tolkin. Atlantic Monthly, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2543-9

Tolkin’s new novel takes place in L.A., but it’s a far cry from the city of his famous Hollywood satire, The Player. This L.A., like the rest of the world, has been exposed to a North Korean bio-agent, NK3, whose effect is to erase memory. Now, four years after the city’s collapse, those with restored memory live in the remains of a gated community in the hills, dubbed Center Camp, a giant fence protecting it from the memory-less Drifters and Shamblers who inhabit the city’s dead zones. Among the survivors are Eckmann, who lives at the airport and guards the last operable jet aircraft; June Moulton, a former movie executive who is in charge of creating new myths to control the Drifters; influential pop superstar Shannon Squier; and Hopper, a Drifter who follows an inner voice directing him to Center Camp to locate his missing wife. All these characters, and many others, meet their fate in a scene echoing the Hollywood riot that ends Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. Studded with obscure pop culture references (Toby Tyler, Spig Wead), the novel is replete with dialogue that has the effect of the classic “Who’s on First?” routine, but with results more chilling than comic. In his novels and screenplays, Tolkin has always exhibited a downbeat view of humanity, which is reinforced here in his bleak vision of the apocalypse, surely the most idiosyncratic since Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)