The Eerie Resonance Of The Southern Reach Trilogy

Tomorrow lands the newest by Jeff VanderMeer: Acceptance.

It’s the third and final book in the whoa-dang-wow Southern Reach trilogy.

Now, there’s this meme going around Facebook which is rara avis in that I actually like it (most Facebook memes are thought-excrement) — while some have simplified it as ten books you love, the original meme is, ten books that have ‘stayed with you.’

I like that. Stayed with you.

Clinging to you like a smell.

I’ll do a proper post about this later in the week about my ten books, but I want to explain to you one of the ways that VanderMeer’s trilogy has stayed with me, and it has to do with the forest with which I have surrounded myself.

We have about seven acres of land here, and most of that land is forest.

It’s mostly native growth. It’s old forest, old trees, a healthy ecosystem of birds and bugs and other things traipsing about on four legs (lots of deer, a few foxes, even some kind of… polecat-looking thing, seen only in the distance and by its little side-by-side tracks).

Sometimes I take a walk through these woods.

I find it peaceful.

And I find it unnerving.

In part it’s unnerving because it’s a primal space. I don’t belong there. It is not mine. It’s bigger than me. It’s profound. It feels like I could lay down on the moss and the loam and die and nobody would ever know. Skin eaten. Bones sunken. Roots claiming all of me.

I find it unnerving more because the forest is never properly familiar — it’s not some room with its furniture, its items arranged in a human way. The forest is chaos. It’s new trees and spiny-assed micrathena spiders and deer bones. The forest, too, changes year to year. Storms break trees. Branches drop. Stumps rot. Heavy rains made a furrow in the earth — an impromptu stream. And, strangest still, we have invasive grasses springing up. They’re ornamental grasses — the kind you go to buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s, various Silvergrasses, and these grasses should never have been sold, should never have been planted, because they’re insidious. Day to day you don’t think much about them but year to year more pop up and you find them in strange places, you find them deeper in the woods where they don’t belong. You find them choking out other plants. The grass changes the forest a little bit here, a little bit there, until one day a little bit has become a great deal, until one day you find grape leaves strangling trees. Shiny beetles from far away chewing through leaves. Ticks and thorns alike burying themselves in your skin.

I step into the woods and I don’t always recognize them.

In that moment, I feel panic. I feel disconnected. I feel intruded upon.

And then that shifts: I feel like an intruder.

I feel very human and very small and it’s eerie and uneasy and awesome in the truest sense.

It’s like looking at someone whose facial features drift apart, micrometer by micrometer — not something you notice at first, but then one day you don’t see them for a few months and when next you visit, they no longer look human.

It’s like entering a room you know is yours, but things have been moved. Just slightly. Your potted plant has changed. Initials that aren’t yours lay carved into the wood of the desk. The picture of your family is from a vacation you didn’t take. Everything feels off its axis.

This is the feeling of the Southern Reach trilogy.

You could do a whole masters-level class on how VanderMeer creates a mood.

(And, in an adjacent way, how VanderMeer uses the text and the mood of it to confront things like invasive species or man’s deleterious effect on himself and his environment.)

It’s early on a Labor Day and I assure you I’m not doing this book justice.

You will just have to check the books out for yourself.

*waits*

*stares*

*eyes slowly begin to drift apart as vines push out of mouth*