Killer Nashville Book of the Day
The Immune System by Nathan Larson / Reviewed by Mel Hiers
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I love dystopian fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale, I Am Legend, Divergent, it’s all good stuff. The Immune System by Nathan Larson provides the creepiest image of a fallen society out of everything I’ve read of the genre to date: the main branch of the New York Public Library with its “damp marble stairs”, “dead computer monitors”, its bathroom sinks “overflowing with musty river water.” Larson’s main character, Dewey Decimal, can now sit in his underwear and contemplate piles of microfiche in this once iconic institution of learning and culture without being asked to kindly put on pants. Because there’s no one else there to care.
Dewey Decimal’s New York City doesn’t seem to have a use for libraries. Its infrastructure is crumbling, the air is noxious, its boroughs controlled by violent gangs. Ordinary people are more focused on the business of surviving. They don’t have the luxury of seeking out information, culture, or entertainment.
Having started with the third book of the trilogy, I feel like I missed out on a lot of the world building that usually occurs in the first one, as well as two-thirds of the story arc. When we first meet Dewey, he’s in the middle of killing a soldier who did the same to one of Dewey’s friends, Dos Mac, in a previous book. He goes on to have a meeting with his employer, a corrupt and evangelical senator who gives him tasks that puts him at odds with his conscience and eventually leads him to a lot of truths about himself, the government, and his world. It bothered me to not know the full significance of Dos Mac’s death, or how Dewey came to be under the power of the senator. I wanted to know more about the Valentine’s Day cataclysm that brought the city down and whether it affected the rest of the country. Despite the confusion, it was all compelling enough to make me want to get my hands on the first two to fill in those gaps.
As lost as I sometimes felt in the world and as many plot threads that I missed, I knew I had the complete and complex Dewey right from the start. He is equal parts librarian, professor, soldier, and gangster. He will outright tell the reader as well as other characters exactly who he is and what he’s feeling at any given time. “It’s a disgusting f—ing world. I’m just the narrator, cheesecake.” He’s quick-witted and profane in a very lyrical way. He’s brutal and empathetic. He sometimes sacrifices safety for style, admits it’s a bad idea and does it anyway. This book was well worth reading just to get to know him.
The tone and style of The Immune System very much matches Dewey and his NYC. Brutal, fast-paced, insistent, sometimes confusing, it took me a few chapters to fully integrate myself into the rhythm of the prose. Dewey narrates with a mixture of street slang, profanity, and educated discourse, almost creating his own custom language that, once you acclimate yourself to it, is perfect for the story.
If you’re sensitive to profanity and violence, you might want to give this one a pass. However, readers who enjoy noir or hardboiled mystery, dystopian fiction, or gritty urban fantasy should absolutely try the series. I do recommend starting with The Dewey Decimal System followed by The Nervous System before moving on to this one.
Mel Hiers spends her days at Smyrna Public Library’s circulation desk, pushing books on the good people of Rutherford County. She also writes for Linebaugh Library System’s Read This Next blog.
(If you have a book you would like featured, send an ARC for consideration. The Killer Nashville Book Reviews are coordinated by Clay Stafford with the irreplaceable assistance of Meaghan Hill, Maria Giordano, Will Chessor, and credited guest reviewers. For more writer resources, visit us at www.KillerNashville.com and www.KillerNashvilleMagazine.com)
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