Acceptance is the third novel of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and if the reviews on Goodreads are any clue reaction to it was decidedly mixed. I loved what it does, even if the ways in which I was occasionally confused left me scratching my head a bit.
- This novel is a naturalist’s dream. Vandermeer clearly knows the Southern Reach area (somewhere on the Gulf coast at the crook of Florida) well, and he evokes its wildness in ways that are metaphorically immersive (if that’s a thing). It’s not the sort of area that evokes the type of rugged men in the wilderness stories that lots of naturalists love, but it is the type of natural area that screams wilderness that doesn’t need humans.
- My guess is that’s part of the reason that Vandermeer sets the trilogy here. In an interview that I can’t find again Vandermeer says that he sets the trilogy in the Southern Reach because he knows it intimately, having lived there for a number of years, but I’m guessing that he was inspired by the landscape as well.
- No plot spoilers here – as I think we expected, the island becomes the focus of the planet’s resistance. The twist this time is the lightkeeper’s story, which makes the novel more contemporary (the description of the blue collar life of the area is sympathetic and engaging) and to integrate humans into what happens in Area X.
- The remolding of individuals as animals feels hopeful to me, which is probably sort of goofy and points to my general curmudgeonliness. The fact that our molecules get absorbed into the ecosystem is just part of the natural order (if we’ll let it function), and the ways in which Vandermeer bases this third novel on that acceptance with a slight reward for those who get it feels like a beautiful thing.
- I enjoy this sub-genre of scifi alot, even if I’m not sure what to call it. It’s sort of eco-criticism, it’s sort of dystopic, it’s definitely hard science fiction but it’s also definitely not set in space. The ending is ambiguous, but I’m pretty sure that the novel posits that Area X is the planet’s most dramatic response to humans trashing it, rather than an alien invasion of some sort, and in my more pessimistic moments I can’t help but wonder if it’s not some sort of cosmic retribution.