You can’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ve been raving about Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy all year, and promising a review of the final volume. So here it is. VanderMeer once again takes readers into the heart of his mysterious Area X (after merely skirting around it through the middle volume in the trilogy), this time expanding our perspective to almost every crucial character in the Area’s bizarre history.
In some ways, this final book is the most traditional of the three, with a plot that seems to be heading towards a real climax, and multiple developed point-of-view characters. But that traditionality turns out to be a bluff as well, as (possible spoiler, but not for anyone whose been paying attention), VanderMeer refuses to answer any of the most key questions, or offer any real resolution to the central mystery and characters. This steadfast commitment to ambiguity, though, is the series’s greatest strength, and what makes it stand out from the over-crowded masses of dystopian/post-apocalyptic SF.
This book most certainly can’t be read as a stand-alone. But for those who have read the first two, it is absolutely essential reading.
VANDERMEER, Jeff. Acceptance. 341p. (Southern Reach: Bk. 3). Farrar. Sept. 2014. pap. $15. ISBN 9780374104115. LC 2014016962.
VanderMeer takes readers for one last trip into Area X in this stunning conclusion to his chilling sci-fi trilogy. Once again, VanderMeer offers a radical change in narrative perspective: in place of the single-character limited viewpoints of the previous two installments, he jumps dramatically through time, space, and character, to give readers the perspectives of every main player. In addition to the biologist from Annihilation—picking up her narration where it left off—and Control from Authority (both Farrar, 2014)—as he travels with the biologist’s doppelganger into Area X—readers follow the thoughts of the previous director of the Southern Reach and her actions leading up to the events of Annihilation; the biologist’s doppelganger, as she helps Control through Area X; and most intriguingly, the Lighthouse Keeper as he lived and worked in the months just before and after the Event which caused Area X. Despite this expansive narrative perspective, the themes and tone from the first two books remain remarkably consistent. The author hammers on the malleability of boundaries, the ambiguity between humanity and nature, and the ineffability of the great mysteries of life. This is heady stuff, but teens who followed VanderMeer through the phenomenal previous volumes should be more than up to the challenge of completing the journey with him.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA