Monday, February 29, 2016

The Area X Trilogy may be over, but its slow madness lives on on my brain





The Southern Reach Trilogy, Vol. 3: Acceptance – Jeff Vandermeer (2014)

            Sometimes when you finish a novel you are left with a deep longing to somehow continue your experience in the world that the writer created out of words on paper.  It can hurt to detach oneself from a world that only truly exists in one’s head.  This is why so many beloved books are read and re-read throughout one’s life.  However, sometimes you read a novel that is so unnerving that once you finish you are glad you escaped with your mind intact!   Many genre books function in this manner, from science fiction to fantasy to hard-boiled detective fiction.  You may never re-read that book, but the world within its pages will forever reside in the recesses of your brain.  I think Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy perfectly fits that description.
            Having read the first two volumes of the trilogy, (Vol. 1 review, Vol. 2 review) I knew what I was getting into with Acceptance, but it did not make things any less engrossing or disturbing.  Like much of my favorite speculative fiction, The Area X Trilogy does not concern itself with merely pushing a plot along to its finale.  It instead takes time to explore the minds of the characters, their motivations, their lies, the things they keep secret, and the things that make them who they are.  It is in these sometimes delirious interludes that the true dread arises as I read. 
I have long been of the opinion that the things going on in people’s minds can be far more frightening than their actions, partly because they are part of a delicate subterfuge, and partly because there is no way to know what someone else is actually thinking.  We go through life assuming that the smiling person who greets you when you get to work is actually smiling inside instead of plotting how to kill you and get away with it.  It makes living easier.  The human mind is the one truly unpredictable thing in the Universe.  Jeff Vandermeeer understands this, and uses it to great effect in this trilogy, as we progressively explore more and more of the main character’s internal monologues and concerns.  It is far scarier to change slowly, to understand and notice the small variances as they happen, than it is to change all at once and then have to live with that change. 
The way Acceptance brings the story of Area X to a close is a good one.  I prefer to be given hints and suggestions rather than detailed exposition specifically tying up the threads of a story.  Ending the books in any other way would have felt cheap.  Instead, I finished the last pages of this novel and felt a deep sadness, and a strong sense of the novel’s own world blowing wide open, hinting at the extent of the changes Area X brings about once it is through with the protagonists.  I am certain that in the coming weeks my mind will find itself drawn back to think about these books, and the story within.  Thank you to Severian from the Sonic Youth Gossip Forum for the recommendation!

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