december reads!

december reads!  end of 2014!  this year went by so fast …

fifty-four.  the strange library, haruki murakami.

at the same time, my anxiety had turned into an anxiety quite lacking in anxiousness.  and any anxiety that is not especially anxious is, in the end, an anxiety hardly worth mentioning.  (19) (no page numbers so section number)

this was … weird.  (which i guess kind of goes without saying.)  to be honest, i’m not sure if i liked it or not.  and, to be even more honest, i’m not sure if there’s anything that much deeper to it — it’s a strange little book, and that’s what it was meant to be.

… apparently, that’s all i have to say about it.  the strange library was interesting to pick up as a visual reading experience because of the way it was designed, and i’d recommend it as such — an interesting visual reading experience.

fifty-five.  belzhar, meg wolitzer.

“everyone,” she [mrs. quenell] continues, looking around at all of us, “has something to say.  but not everyone can bear to say it.  your job is to find a way.”  (34)

belzhar was an easy, quick read, and i liked a lot of the ideas in it — the boarding school for kids recovering from trauma or working through struggles/disorders, a world within journals where the characters can return to the days before their lives were flipped upside down, the juxtaposition of this static but desirable world of the past and the vibrant but unbearable, changed world of the present.  i liked the struggle that came with that, the inevitable point of having to learn to let go and return to the present.

i have mixed feelings about the book, though.  i wished wolitzer would dig deeper; everything felt like it was held on the surface of things; and the stakes honestly didn’t seem high enough, particularly for the narrator.  and i’m mixed about the twist at the end because i’m not that convinced of it?  and the ending was too hopeful, too neat and clean; i honestly kind of just shrugged it off.

all in all, though, it was an easy, quick read, and i enjoyed it enough.

fifty-six.  the unspeakable, meghan daum.

after more than a decade of being told that i’d wake up one morning at age thirty or thirty-three or, God forbid, forty, to the ear-splitting peals of my biological clock, i’d failed to capitulate in any significant way.  i would still look at a woman pushing a baby stroller and feel more pity than envy.  in fact, i felt no envy at all, only relief that i wasn’t her.  (“difference maker,” 116)

i liked how the “unspeakable” things in this collection weren’t big, dark, giant secrets — daum isn’t tackling hugely controversial or necessarily new topics; she’s talking about them with more honesty and candor than might be expected.  like, she doesn’t try to “make excuses” for choosing childlessness or gloss over the intensity of the dog owner-dog relationship or tell some grand tales laden with epiphany or emotion from the mysterious illness that put her in a coma and close to death a few years ago — and, in such ways, i feel she tackles the unspeakable.  she does it in very engaging, frank, and funny writing, too, without going on the defensive (or even feeling like she should be defensive), and i appreciated this collection and daum’s for their openness.

it’s interesting to think about how things become “unspeakable” — or, more specifically, in what ways things become “unspeakable.”  we can talk about things all we want, but when there’s a barrier of emotional expectation or societal niceties, then how much are we really talking?

fifty-seven.  station eleven, emily st. john mandel.

hell is the absence of the people you long for.  (144)

if i had to describe station eleven in three words, i’d call it beautiful, haunting, and hopeful.  it’s a world that’s essentially been “reboot” by a virus that killed off millions (i’m assuming) more or less overnight and thus saw the end of technology and electricity and other such “basic” things we’re accustomed to.  even so, it’s not a book of despair, and it’s not a story of mere survival either but of people who are making their lives in a changed world and finding hope and togetherness and purpose — and i loved how mandel tied together all the different characters and mapped out how they were connected in the “previous” world.

i loved the days i spent immersed in this world.

fifty-eight.  the twenty-seventh city, jonathan franzen.

poverty, poor education, discrimination and institutionalized criminality were not modern.  they were indian problems, sustaining an ideology of separateness, of meaningful suffering, of despairing pride.  in the ghetto, just as in the indian ghettos of caste, consciousness would come slowly and painfully.  jammu had no patience.  she’d hauled the big industrial guns into the inner city and called it a solution, because ultimately it was far easier to change the thinking of a rich white fifty-year-old or to deflect the course of his eighteen-year-old daughter than it was to give a black child fifteen years of decent education.  (399)

when i first read the twenty-seventh city a few years ago, for some reason, i went into it thinking it was sci-fi.  i’m not sure why i thought that — i actually kind of blame it on the picador cover — but i did, so i was so fucking confused for the first hundred pages, wondering where the sci part of it was, which meant that the whole novel was kind of lost to me.  i’ve read (or reread) franzen’s othernovels this year, so i figured i might as well round it out with the twenty-seventh city, which is his first.

to be quite honest, i couldn’t quite get into it this second time around, though i also can’t fully remember what i thought of it the first time around because i was so confused.  the short, clipped sentences drove me kind of batty, and i didn’t like all the conspiratorial stuff of the new police chief coming into st. louis and trying to amass power, and i hated singh for being so dastardly and casual with violence to achieve these conspiratorial ends and i also hated jammu for pretending to be above the dirty, sneaky crap singh would do, like she could keep her hands clean.

i also hated the ending.  i almost stopped reading because i hated it — it was unnecessarily violent and jarring in the narrative, too, and i just did not like it.

fifty-nine.  the discomfort zone, jonathan franzen.  (audiobook)

adolescence is best enjoyed without self-consciousness, but self-consciousness, unfortunately, is its leading symptom.  even when something important happens to you, even when your heart’s getting crushed or exalted, even when you’re absorbed in building foundations of a personality, there come these moments when you’re aware that what’s happening is not the real story.  unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you.  this alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are.  you’re miserable and ashamed if you don’t believe your adolescent troubles matter, but you’re stupid if you do.  (“centrally located,” 113)

my first audiobook!  i’ve discovered that audiobooks are awesome for plane rides!  though maybe i specifically mean audiobooks recorded by franzen himself because i love his voice (it’s so throaty and deep and hoarse), and i’m sad that he hasn’t recorded more …

listening to an audiobook is [obviously] a different experience.  i’d already readthe discomfort zone twice before, so i wasn’t listening to it for the first time, so it was interesting to experience the book in a different way, especially because franzen adds his own tone and [physical] voice to it.  it’s also different listening to him read on audiobook because i feel like he’s more intense “in real life,” reading faster and more fluidly whereas, on audiobook, he had to slow down and be more rigid in pace.

sixty.  slouching towards bethlehem, joan didion.

that is a story my generation knows; i doubt that the next will know it, the children of the aerospace engineers.  who would tell it to them?  […]  “old” sacramento to them will be something colorful, something they read about in sunset.  […]  they will have lost the real past and gained a manufactured one […].

but perhaps it is presumptuous of me to assume that they will be missing something.  perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older […].  (“notes from a native daughter,” 185-6)

my first didion!  didion’s writing has an ethereal, dreamy quality to it, even when she’s covering trials or immersing herself in san francisco’s haight-ashbury or writing about sacramento.  i like the way she writes about california — there’s a tenderness and affection to it — and it makes me think of california in different hues, too.

sixty-one.  you are one of them, elliott holt.

there is something painfully honest about winter:  the skeletal trees, the brutal repetition of the cold.  there are no empty promises, no hazy, humid hopes.  it’s reality, lonely and stark.  (198)

last book of the year!  i loved holt’s depiction of childhood friendship and the tangles of it and how the spectre of it can loom over you, and the russian and descriptions of russia poked at my yen to travel.  it felt a little anticlimactic, though, and i wanted more conflict, more tension, more emotion, actually, on the narrator’s end.  i loved the ending, though, especially because i was all set to be disappointed in the narrator, so i was proud of her for actively pursuing a decision and effectively shedding her past.

this was a good book to end the year on, and i’m pleased to say that it’s been an awesome reading year, and it’s been such a pleasure to be able to read more and to practice reading more thoughtfully.  i know i’m still not that great at writing about books, but i’m glad to be challenging myself to try to get better at it!

thanks for being with me through the year!  and now i go off to write my year-end recap …!

november reads!

november!  i hit my goal of reading 52 books this year!  huzzah!  and now let's see how close to 60 i can get!

fifty.  strong motion, jonathan franzen.

a decadent society teaches people to enjoy advertisements of violence against women, any suggestion of the yanking down of women’s bra straps and the seizing of their breasts, the raping of women, the tying up of women’s limbs with rope, the puncturing of women’s bellies, the hearing of their screams.  but then some actual woman they know gets abducted and raped and not only fails to enjoy it but becomes angry or injured for a lifetime, and suddenly they are hostages to her experience.  they feel sick with constriction, because all those sexy images and hints have long since become bridges to span the emptiness of their days.  (470-1)

franzen’s oft-ignored second child — i liked it a lot, more than i thought i would, not because i had low expectations for it but because i had no idea what it was about, other than earthquakes in boston.  it’s a very franzen novel — big, full world with complicated social issues — and he navigates it all well, not perfectly (but who’s perfect?) but confidently and without hesitation.  he’s incisive but fair (particularly in his handling of the church leader), and there was a moment where i was prepared to turn on the novel (i won’t give it away), but it all turned out okay in the end.  (not in an annoyingly gratuitous way, though, thankfully.)

fifty-one.  telex from cuba, rachel kushner.

suppose you get only fifteen minutes.would you travel three thousand miles to speak with someone you love for just fifteen minutes, if you know that it’s the last time you’ll ever see that person?

how far would you travel?

suppose you could speak to someone you love who’s no longer living.  would you cross a continent to speak to that person for just fifteen minutes?

you would.

when it’s someone you love, the answer is that fifteen minutes is limitless if it means getting information about how to proceed without them.  the chance of a clue is worth the journey.  because you don’t know what that person will say to you.  you can’t guess what you might be turning down.  (308-9)

what a beautifully rich, vivid world.  i read this book in super saturated tones and found it all intriguing and intoxicating, but i must confess that i didn’t buy the first person sections — i didn’t really think the first person worked or was necessary.  to be honest, i wasn’t all that keen on the first person in the flamethrowers either, but that was all in first person, so it was okay — but, here, in telex from cuba, the first person sections were a little jarring because the other parts are in third person, and the first person didn’t really bring anything different or significant to warrant it.

still enjoyed the novel, though.

fifty-two.  the fall, albert camus.

yes, hell must be like that:  streets filled with shop signs and no way of explaining oneself.  one is classified once and for all.  (47)

always a joy to read — it’s such a slim volume but so thought-provoking.  what a pithy little statement.  when it comes to camus, i always find myself coming back to the fall and the myth of sisyphus.

fifty-three.  a tale for the time being, ruth ozeki.

“so of course i feel angry,” i said, angrily.  “what do you expect?  it was a stupid thing to ask.”

“yes,” she agreed.  “it was a stupid thing to ask.  i see that you’re angry.  i don’t need to ask such a stupid thing to understand that.”

“so why did you ask?”

slowly she turned herself around, pivoting on her knees, until finally she was facing me.  “i asked for you,” she said.”

“for me?”

“so you could hear the answer.”  (169)

i. loved. this.  if you haven’t read it, please do.

loved how contemporary it was, how immediate it felt, how relevant the issues are.  loved how ozeki integrated japanese so smoothly and loved the footnotes.  loved how sassy nao’s voice was — how teenager her voice was — loved how the boundary between ozeki the author and ruth the character felt blurred.  loved the contrast in setting, the quiet island ruth lives on versus the metropolis of tokyo.  loved how ozeki didn’t shy away from discussing issues like bullying and sex without getting on a soapbox.  loved how prescient it all was, even though nao had written her journal years before ruth found it washed up on the beach.

loved also the experience of reading it, of posting photos on instagram and receiving comments — it’s one of the things i do unreservedly like about the internet, how it’s allowed us to create community globally.  it’s fucking awesome, and i’m so thrilled to have found and connected with people who love books as much as i do. 

i’ve been binge-reading a lot these days.  read belzhar in its entirety today, and i’ve been ploughing through meghan daum’s the unspeakable and just started station eleven.  reading is the only thing i can really focus on at the moment, but, hey, i’m all for it!

october reads!

so, october was the month i read marilynne robinson.  plus one other book, so let’s talk about that first because this is a month-to-month record thing:

forty-six.  thirty-eight witnesses, a. m. rosenthal.

this was unfortunately entirely forgettable.  it’s essentially a reprinting of articles written about the kitty genovese murder, so there was nothing new in here i hadn’t already known.

so.  marilynne robinson.

i started with gilead, then started reading homebut picked up lila because i wanted to read lila before the week of marilynne robinson events i planned on attending.  i do  wonder how the reading experience might be for someone who starts with home or lila because i felt that gilead anchored the other two books and created an interesting reading experience because we got to see some events in gilead from a different perspective.

one of the main things i loved about the gilead books is that robinson does such an exquisite job of portraying faith from different POVs.  we have the very theological, biblical, but generous attitude of john ames, but, then, on the other hand, we have lila who grew up being taught to be suspicious of preachers and churches.  we have jack who’s very bible-learned but whose faith is questionable — he knows all the right answers and can easily quote scripture and play hymns on the piano, but it’s not like he actually believes.  we have boughton who’s very rigid in his beliefs and doesn’t see outside them, and then we have glory who doesn’t seem to think much about things like faith or religion — she has to take care of her elderly father and worry about jack, the prodigal son.  and, all in all, i think robinson beautifully shows faith in different ways, and she doesn’t do so in patronizing or condescending tones.  if anything, my main takeaway from robinson’s fiction (and from following her around nyc for a week) is that she’s a genuinely kind, generous, thoughtful soul.

forty-seven.  gilead, marilynne robinson.

so my advice is this — don’t look for proofs.  don’t bother with them at all.  they are never sufficient to the question, and they’re always a little impertinent, i think, because they claim for God a place within our conceptual grasp.  and they will likely sound wrong to you even if you convince someone else with them.  that is very unsettling over the long term.  “let your words so shine before men,” etc.  it was coleridge who said christianity is a life, not a doctrine, words to that effect.  i’m not saying never doubt or question.  the Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it.  i’m saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion of any particular moment.  (179)

this was a lot more poignant and heart-warming than i expected it to be.  i thought john ames would be a stodgy, dignified narrator — and he was — but there’s also a warmth and affection and humor to his voice.  you can feel the love he has for his son and for lila — there’s a beautiful tenderness running through the entire novel, and a lot of wisdom, too — i was honestly really surprised at how much bible (or christianity, i suppose) is present in gilead.

at the signing after the event at mcnally jackson, the only thing i could think to say to marilynne robinson was that her writing was teaching me how to write with boldness.  (she was nice enough to say thank you to that.)  and it’s true — i would say that faith is the thing i find hardest to talk or write about, especially on a personal level, so maybe, from that personal perspective, i find it pretty incredible how openly and generously robinson writes (and talks) about matters of faith.  and i think it’s also a testament to her that she can do so but still be so generously received.

anyway, i loved that robinson didn’t just stop at gilead but decided to delve into the other characters in this world because i love how we get to see how things aren’t exactly as john ames writes to his son.  in home and lila, we get different perspectives to certain events in gilead that make us see them (and, in connection, john ames) in a different light, not in the sense that ames is deliberately being misleading or trying to paint himself in the best possible angle in his letters to his son, but in the sense that we (as people) interpret things in different ways and, similarly, remember things in different ways.  or, even, that we want to remember things in certain ways.

forty-eight.  home, marilynne robinson.

“kinder to him!  i thanked God for him every day of his life, no matter how much grief, how much sorrow — and at the end of it all there is only more grief, more sorrow, and his life will go on that way, no help for it now.  you see something beautiful in a child, and you almost live for it, you feel as though you would die for it, but it isn’t yours to keep or to protect.  and if the child becomes a man who has no respect for himself, it’s just destroyed till you can hardly remember what it was —“  he said, “it’s like watching a child die in your arms.”  (294-5)

i would confess that i liked home significantly less than i liked gilead or lila.  part of me felt like it was a little too long, and there was certainly a lot of talk about home that felt a little heavy-handed.  i think i also was least compelled by the voice in home — robinson does such a wonderful job inhabiting ames’ voice in gilead, and the narrow third-person in lila is so intimate and close (at first, i wished robinson had written lila in the first-person but quickly dispelled of that thought).  home is also written in narrow third-person, and i appreciated how robinson really kept it focused on glory — all throughout home, we are with glory; we see things through her eyes — but i don’t know, maybe it’s just that i wasn’t that taken by the boughtons.

there were a lot of things about age and aging that i also appreciated in home.  and also about being a parent and hoping for things for your child but everything ultimately being out of your control.  i didn’t know what to make of the ending, though — i’m still ambivalent about it, though i lean a little more towards, “mmmmm … no?”

forty-nine.  lila, marilynne robinson.

that boy out at the cabin, he knew her.  married?  to a preacher?  sounds like you making that up.  that his child you got there?  meaning no harm, knowing no better.  it seemed almost as if she and lied to the preacher when she said she didn’t know that boy.  he had been at the edge of her sight all those years, orphaned, his whole life just that terrible little ember of pride, meanness and kindness all that he had to shelter it with, and the injured fearfulness that comes when anybody at all might do you the worst kind of harm, just by the way they look at you.  this old man is beautiful and kind and very patient, she thought, and he if looked at me that way i might just die of it.  well, but for now he is mine to touch if i want to.  so when she brought his coffee she put her arms around his neck and she kissed his hair.  might as well take pleasure where you can.  (169)

i LOVED lila.  like, this-book-broke-my-fucking-heart LOVED lila.  i have so many feelings about lila — she’s so tough and alone but full of love — love that she sometimes can’t seem to help — and robinson writes her unapologetically and truthfully, not trying to paint her as a pitiful, tragic character we should feel sorry for because of her past.  lila’s just a woman who had a hard life, unable to settle down or go to school or live a “normal” life, and this is just who she is, someone who’s had to fend for herself and figure out a way to survive on her own, and she’s tough but she isn’t brittle, she’s jaded maybe but she isn’t so cynical.

one of the things that really stood out to me was that, for lila, heaven and hell mean different things than they do to ames.  i generally love how robinson approaches faith (or doubt, i suppose) in lila because it’s so different here than it is in gilead or home, where we have characters who have grown up with christianity (and the privileges it brings).  robinson gives doubt (i don’t want to call it doubt, per se, but it’s the best word i can come up with at the moment) the same depth and genuineness and sincerity that she does faith, and, for me, it really came out in lila’s grappling with the concept of heaven — heaven and hell particularly are real to her in ways that they can’t be for ames or boughton.  there’s a beautiful scene where lila’s talking to john ames, and she tells him that heaven is something he can take for granted because everyone he knows is going to be there.  he doesn’t have to think about hell except as an almost theoretical concept, an idea of a place that exists but doesn’t really hold reality for him because everyone he knows and has known and loved is going to heaven, but, for lila, the only person she loved was most certainly never saved — so, if lila were to go to heaven, she would never see doll again.  

and it sounds like such a simple thing, but robinson writes it in such wonderful ways that really bring lila’s hesitation (or fear, you could say) to life.  it’s not that simple — faith is not that simple — love is not that simple — and, yes, at the heart of it, lila is the love story of lila and john ames, this kind of strange, unexpected pairing that just works.  they’re good together, and not in a one-directional way — he’s good for her, just like she’s good for him — and there’s this tenderness between them that just makes your heart ache.  the whole time i was reading it, i wanted to fall in love (sigh, where’s my old man love?!), and i kept worrying about what would happen to lila and robby after john ames dies.  i know lila and robby will be fine, though, because lila’s a survivor.  i still worry, though, because lila won’t have john ames anymore, and that thought still makes my heart twinge.

anyway, in other updates, i finished my book, sent it off to the hopefully-to-be-mine agent, and am now twiddling my thumbs and trying to suppress the anxiety pangs.  ok that’s not all i’m doing — i started reading the brothers karamazov, then promptly had a brief fling with strong motion (i have a lot of thoughts about that, too, especially because i read strong motion right after re-reading his lecture, “on autobiographical fiction,” and i have a lot of thoughts about franzen’s oversharing), and i started working on my next book because, well, why not?  i’ve also been eating kitkat by the XL-bar (aka three 4-piece bars in one giant bar) and sleeping a lot and thinking that i ought to get another tattoo because, fucki wrote a book, and that deserves celebrating, regardless of what happens to it.

september reads!

mmm september was a dry reading month.  pretty good writing month, though, so there’s balance there.

forty-three.  acceptance, jeff vandermeer.

the world we are part of now is difficult to accept, unimaginably difficult.  i don’t know if i can accept everything even now.  i don’t know how i can.  but acceptance moves past denial, and maybe there’s defiance in that, too.  (338)

i blogged about the whole trilogy here.

acceptance is my favourite of the trilogy.  i love the different voices, and i particularly enjoyed the parts with the lighthouse keeper and with the director, both of whom turned out to be two of my favourite characters from the trilogy.  acceptance is the creepiest book, too, as we find out more about the characters and area x before it became area x, and i appreciate that vandermeer closes the southern reach trilogy without giving us a list of answers and explanations.  the southern reach trilogy basically avoided all the trappings of trilogies i dislike (convenient a-ha! moments, coincidences, heavy exposition, dragged-out stories to fill pages, heavy-handed explication), and acceptance ended on a very fulfilling high note that also left you thinking that these characters would keep on going even though the pages were over.

i had an awesome time reading these books.  and i can’t wait to go back and read them again, this time all the way through in one go.  that’ll be a whole new reading experience, and i wonder what more i’ll pick up then!

forty-four.  the children act, ian mcewan.

in moments of disillusion with due process, she only needed to summon the case of martha longman and runcie’s lapse to confirm a passing sense that the law, however much fiona loved it, was at its worst not an ass but a snake, a poisonous snake.  (55)

when i think of ian mcewan now, i think of gary shteyngart.  in his book trailer for super sad true love story, he’s teaching a seminar at columbia called “how to behave at a paris review party,” and he teaches his students the “proper” way to say “i do so much prefer early ian mcewan to late ian mcewan.”  which made me laugh out loud because that’s exactly what i’ve been saying …

because it’s true!  i do prefer early ian mcewan!  i miss that eeriness and grittiness of his older books, the feeling of something sinister and dark lurking underneath everything, and both solar and sweet tooth lacked that subversion that mcewan does so well.  i was hoping that the children act would bring some of that back, and, you know, i think i was more disappointed by the children act because it almost did — there’s a great twist roughly halfway in, but mcewan doesn’t delve that deeply into it and kind of just drops it instead.  pity, because it made me sit up and start reading with keen interest after slogging through the first half.

forty-five.  sweetness #9, stephan eirik clark.

i suppose i could have answered her by speaking of sweetness #9 and my experiences with it.  if the nine had been deemed safe for public consumption, after all, what did it matter if the medicine they wanted to give our son had also been approved for use?  but none of that came to me in the moment.  my answer was far simpler, even reflexive.  “we always want better for our kids,” i said.  “don’t we?”  (260)

this book is beautifully designed — i love the rich blue of the cover and the bright pink of the book boards (is that what they’re called), and the lettering is wonderfully done, perfectly fitting the theme of the book, which is this artificial sweetener — sweetness #9.

that said.

so wanted to love this book.  i was excited for it when it was published because (01) it’s a beaut of a book and (02) the premise is fascinating and (03) the story is set up to make interesting comments to contemporary food culture.  basically, all the potential was there, but, unfortunately, the book never got there.  the writing is good, and i did enjoy the narrative voice, but the story never takes off — essentially, nothing happens.  there are no stakes.  or that’s not true — there are stakes; they just don’t feel like stakes because there’s no urgency or nervousness or tension.  the narrator himself doesn’t really seem to care, like he’s only reacting in surface ways, so i couldn’t get invested in his struggles or worries or concerns, either. 

on page 244 (the book is 336 pages), i wrote, “i wish clark would dig deeper into the tension and anxiety, like really get into the narrator’s head and his uneasiness/guilt.  i feel like clark’s just showing things instead of going deeper so we can be down in his growing panic with him instead of merely observing.”  i was honestly considering dropping the book then, but, for some reason, i pushed through those last hundred pages, hoping it would pick up, but it didn’t.  and the ending was so lackluster and a little ridiculous and tied things together so neatly, i was simply relieved to have finished the book so i can put it away and take it out to admire its prettiness every once in a while. 

currently reading gilead (which i’m loving) and planning to finish that and home before lila is published on tuesday!

the southern reach trilogy.

jeff vandermeer’s the southern reach trilogy:  i’m sad this is over because now i won’t be able to experience area x and its mysteries for the first time again.  however, i’m sure there are lots of details and connections i missed and that there’s still a lot to discover, so i’m excited to reread these books, now that all three have been published!

this trilogy was loads of fun to read — fun and c r e e p y in all the right ways.  the easy comparison is to say that it reminds me of lost, just … done well all the way through to the end, with a concept that didn’t run away with vandermeer or stifle the narrative or the characters.  vandermeer had an excellent handle on the story from the beginning all the way through, but not in a way that felt overworked or too controlling — the effort isn’t on the page in the trilogy, and that, i think, says a lot.

one of the things i loved about the trilogy is how there isn’t really a hero, at least not in any traditional i-will-save-the-world-and-solve-these-mysteries way.  there’s also no sense of a required salvation or redemption — vandermeer isn’t interested in “saving” anyone, which i appreciated, much like i appreciated that vandermeer isn’t obsessed with the “why” behind things, more just observing and presenting things as they are.  all the characters are flawed and isolated in their own ways, some (like the biologist) seeking actual physical isolation, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t somehow connected, that their actions don’t impact the greater world around them.  i also loved the obscuring of names and identities (“control,” “ghost bird”) and even the reducing characters to their functions (“the biologist,” “the psychologist,” “the director”), how these reductions become obfuscations and secrets and masks that reinforce isolation and loneliness but don’t lessen the reverberations of individual actions on other’s lives.

throughout the trilogy, vandermeer also does a fantastic job of giving just enough information and being just oblique enough, of striking that balance and supporting it with this wonderful tension that isn’t gimmicky or try-hard or artificial.  the entire trilogy is infused in this mood of unease and creepiness that makes the southern reach such a fun, engrossing read that’s also frustrating because there’s so much we don’t know.

vandermeer isn’t stingy with answers or narrative/emotional payoffs, though, peeling layers away gradually (sometimes, while raising more questions).  we might not know everything by the end of acceptance, but we know enough with room to continue wondering and pondering, and the characters are delivered to the ends of their arcs in very satisfying ways.  i can honestly say that i loved the ending — the last ten pages or so of acceptance are fantastically done — and i closed the book with a sigh, sad to leave this world and these characters behind, to have no more of the southern reach to look forward to, but very satisfied with the adventure and its close.

(also:  i read a review that said that it was gimmicky of FSG to release this as a trilogy over a year, but, honestly, i thought that was fantastic.  the trilogy is a cohesive narrative, yes, but i think the southern reach is very much a trilogy that should have been told in three books, not only because of the different narrative voices [another thing i loved], but also because of the way vandermeer reveals the story.  he was ingenious in the way he used the structure of the trilogy, and FSG did a great job with it, what with the beautiful cover art and design and with the staggered releases in the same calendar year.)

(also:  i wrote this up at 2 am while listening to the soundtrack to the village [haven’t seen the movie but the soundtrack is fantastic], and now i am totally creeped out.)