Dystopic tril­ogy of­fers few an­swers

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Alan MacKen­zie

IN this fi­nal book of his South­ern Reach Tril­ogy, Florida-based au­thor Jeff Van­der­Meer re­turns to the cen­tral lo­ca­tion and, mostly, the fast­paced ter­ror of the first in­stal­ment while an­swer­ing many of the mys­ter­ies that have shrouded this grip­ping se­ries. But that’s not to say Ac­cep­tance ties the tril­ogy up in a nice bow. Van­der­Meer did some­thing rather unique with this se­ries, re­leas­ing all three books in the same year, only months apart. While this cre­ated a feel­ing that the story had a true end game planned and that all of its mys­ter­ies would be re­solved, there are times read­ing Ac­cep­tance when it feels like the whole thing may fall off the rails. But then it all comes to­gether in the sec­ond half — or at least some­what. In keep­ing with the para­noid at­mos­phere of An­ni­hi­la­tion and the con­spir­a­cy­laden Au­thor­ity, Ac­cep­tance of­fers no easy an­swers. In fact, ev­ery an­swer just comes with more ques­tions. An­ni­hi­la­tion was a tight, nearper­fect sci-fi hor­ror story that, de­spite its open end­ing, worked as a stand­alone story. Au­thor­ity also could have worked as a stand-alone as well, though per­haps not quite as in­trigu­ing. Ac­cep­tance cer­tainly doesn’t work on its own, though; it feels more like watch­ing the fi­nale of a TV se­ries like Lost or Twin Peaks with­out the con­text of the pre­vi­ous episodes — and with its dop­pel­gängers, surreal im­agery and theme of ter­ror found in the out­doors, there’s some shared DNA with those pro­grams. In An­ni­hi­la­tion, an all-fe­male ex­pe­di­tion trav­elled into a lush, enig­matic zone called Area X, a space re­claimed by na­ture and cut off from the rest of the con­ti­nent for three decades fol­low­ing a mys­te­ri­ous event. It was told as a first-per­son ac­count of one of the team mem­bers, the bi­ol­o­gist, and felt like an Earth-bound ver­sion of Ri­d­ley Scott’s Alien. Au­thor­ity took a com­pletely dif­fer­ent take on the story, fo­cus­ing on the peo­ple work­ing at the South­ern Reach, the gov­ern­ment body that over­sees all ex­pe­di­tions into Area X, and was set mostly in an of­fice build­ing out­side of the mys­te­ri­ous zone. In Ac­cep­tance, Van­der­meer brings the two worlds to­gether, weav­ing to­gether three sep­a­rate sto­ry­lines told over dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods. In one nar­ra­tive, Con­trol, the South­ern Reach di­rec­tor who was the main pro­tag­o­nist of the sec­ond book, trav­els into Area X with Ghost Bird, an in­ex­pli­ca­bly cre­ated twin of the bi­ol­o­gist from the first book. Another fol­lows Con­trol’s mother when she was a South­ern Reach di­rec­tor — just be­fore the ex­pe­di­tion in An­ni­hi­la­tion. The third, and per­haps most com­pelling, sto­ry­line in­tro­duces Saul Evans, a light­house keeper in what would one day be­come Area X, and some­one who may have played a ma­jor role in the cre­ation of the area. The sto­ries weave to­gether, of­ten in un­ex­pected ways, and Van­der­Meer con­tin­ues to cre­ate a surreal sense of para­noia and dread. And while not as com­pelling over­all as An­ni­hi­la­tion, Ac­cep­tance is a wor­thy end­ing to the se­ries — as long as read­ers are will­ing to ac­cept that some things must re­main a mys­tery. Alan MacKen­zie is a Win­nipeg-based

writer and ed­i­tor.

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