Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Really 3.5 stars
I'm already tired of my previous argument that the first book was the unconscious and the second was the superego. There's no where else for this book to go except a healthy balance: Hence the name, Acceptance. My argument is too trite and obvious.
So, instead, I'll move on to how this novel either succeeds or doesn't as an actual novel meant to entertain us.
I had issues with the previous novel which did get much better once the Authority crumbled, and this novel takes place entirely in Area X, which I very much prefer. The place is a character, after all, and it had been filled with so many delicious developments that it was a shame to just get a dry point-by-point debriefing. I wanted to be plopped right back into the action, to revel in the gorging fruit and flame, and enjoy that unbearable lightness of being.
Well, as the argument goes, we've got a compromise.
The book is chock-full of good reveals, but unlike the first novel, the timing on them weren't quite as good. The first novel had an excellent horror aesthetic, rising and falling between intellectualism, memory, and being absolutely confronted by the Id becoming externalized, backing off and rushing forward like the tide.
This novel is stuffed full of characters like Saul the Lighthouse Keeper, living out his last days before the great change to the Area, (which I liked a lot), Grace the original psychologist and the director of the Southern Reach, her past and her current new self, Control, and (thank goodness,) Ghost Bird. All of them do their part to fill in the gaps we've been missing, and there's a lot of gaps that had to be filled, but that's the purpose of Ego. It's here to make sense of things that can't be quantified, just like Area X.
Here's your first warning about spoilers, people.
I really WANT to talk about the reveals. They're fun and worthwhile. I want to have a nice long discussion about them with people who like wormholes and pocket universes, alien intelligences who've perfected biology but who've outgrown the patience to try and communicate with the dregs, the altered starscape, and the functional immortality and time-dilation within the Area. But I won't, out of respect for those who still want to be surprised. Because, let's face it, if you've gotten this far, you're RELYING on the surprises to keep you going, because the plot is kinda unreliable and organic, which fits the theme, of course, but if you're looking for something to actually HAPPEN, or for the Area to finally be Provoked, as was hinted at earlier, then you'll be disappointed.
Can a novel be carried entirely by it's reveals? No. Can they be entirely carried by only a few of the characters, who, like cancer victims, must find in themselves a reason to carry on despite everything that has happened? Maybe. It always depends on how the story spins out and what kind of things we can pull away from the tale, as readers.
Some people are going to take away a lot more from this novel than me. I loved the ideas. I'll rank this novel very high as an idea novel, rather than one that is written well. What really pains me is the hints that Mr. VanderMeer IS a very talented writer, full of great aesthetics and a great sense of timing, which, unfortunately, he declined to pull out for the readers in the second and third novels. (It's not quite as bad, in the third novel. My interest was held much more in it than in the second.)
I just feel as if the novel could have been great with a bit more plot-push or a complete submersion back into the weird. Either way, we bring it back to the characters, or we bring it Fully into Area X as character.
*sigh* Apparently, I have to Accept that the Area (the Id) and the scheming people (superego) must make up a third, ultimately less satisfying character.
Sure. It might be healthy to integrate the two, and it is a mark of character growth, whether it is within Us, as readers, or the peeps we are reading about, but let me ask the important question:
"Don't we, as readers, read for the conflicts, and not the resolution?"
It's where the action is. It's what puts us at the edges of our seats. Acceptance means the loss of conflict. Great for living life, but not so great for the readers of an obviously excellent setup and prolonged execution of an idea story that happened to have truly fascinating and well-drawn characters. It has so much potential. It's really reaching for the stars. I love that about it. I just wish I hadn't felt cheated at the end. We're still sitting on the fence. Neither Id nor Superego are going to win this one. It is ongoing, forever.
*sigh* Happiness and adjustment, in this case, is very off-putting and creepy, especially if you're eventually going to transform into the actual ecosystem of the Area and become a functionally immortal monstrosity.
(And don't argue with me about the thousands of great examples in Horror that leave us without happy endings. This is a one-off of those. This is an unhappy ending posing as a well-thought-out exposition and persuasive argument telling us that it's actually a happy ending. Or it's the ultimate argument, taken to extremes, of "Life must go on".)
I really want to like the novels, people. I really do. There's a lot going on that I appreciate with my brain and it's turtles all the way down. It's my heart that rebels.
On the other hand, I'm totally open to comments and discussions on this one. It deserves a lot more than just this.
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