I mentioned that Sunday I was going to make my first trip out of the house with my daughter’s family heading down to a local wildlife sanctuary. What I didn’t realize was that the sanctuary had been the model or Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. Yes, I spent the afternoon in Area X, right next to the Lighthouse.
If you enjoy contemporary speculative fiction that doesn’t rely on abnormal sex or extra gaseous appendages, VanderMeer’s trilogy is recommended. However, if the New Weird is your direction, much of VanderMeer’s earlier work is probably more to your liking (Veniss Underground comes to mind). Like many authors through the years and around the world, VanderMeer moved from the early vigor of literary rebelliousness to a more mainstream narrative form, albeit about a mysterious and dangerous part of a future United States.
I recently read the complete trilogy and, although initially intrigued, I found the addition of other-worldly elements unnecessary and even disruptive to an otherwise approachable story. In works like this I admire pushing reality but draw the line at having wee people or flashing biological messages pop up to add a forced sense of mystery.
Wee people? That reminds me of Haruki Murakami’s latest, Killing Commendatore. Here the author develops an intriguing narrative with many elements of mystery and adventure, but then attaches the unfolding plot to magical characters suggested by a strange painting, itself suggested by the opera Don Giovanni.
Here Murakami, much like VanderMeer, develops a plausible, albeit mysterious narrative and then dips into the weird.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against weird literature, but I do tend to feel disappointed when weirdness comes down like a god from the sky to punch-up a perfectly good story as if it needed some fairy dust to increase interest .. or sales.
As I have admitted many times, I just haven’t cultivated the science fiction gene that so many readers, especially genre fiction readers, enjoy.
One theme I noticed in Killing Commendatore that intrigued me was the author’s constant references to women’s breasts. One young character is obsessed with the lagging development of her breasts and openly discusses this anatomical concern with a lack of apparent modesty. I began to wonder if the author was balancing the mundane realism of female puberty against the unrealistic inclusion of wee people from an underground fantasy.
Actually, both the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) and Killing Commendatore are good reading. I guess it’s my own weirdness that keeps me from considering them being great reading.