FSG Originals, 2014.
So this is how the series ends. Not with a bang, but a whisper.
Acceptance, the stunning finale to Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy doesn’t so much bring closure to the story, as it simply ends. The questions from the previous installments are still mostly unanswered, and more questions are posed. If you want resolution, look elsewhere.
As with my previous review of Authority, this review is going to be chock-a-block with spoilers from the previous books, so don’t come complaining that I ruined the series for you.
You’ve been warned. Go read them instead.
Acceptance attempts to pull together all the disparate threads from the previous books. VanderMeer pulls out all his storytelling tricks in this finale, with flashbacks, journal entries and second person narration fleshing out the actions that led to the creation of Area X and resolving the mystery behind the fates of the biologist and psychologist from the first book, Annihilation.
Acceptance alternates between three main narratives — the story of Saul, the lighthouse keeper at the center of the initial event that spawned Area X and his relationship to the psychologist; the psychologist’s second person recollections of her initial foray into Area X and her motivations to return with the 12th Expedition of Annihilation; and Southern Reach director Control’s foray into Area X with Ghost Bird, the mysterious doppelgänger of the biologist from the 12th Expedition.
And dropped in the middle of these interlocking stories is the last will and testament of the biologist, explaining the mind, time and body-altering secrets behind Area X.
In truth, nothing is really answered. We know that something happened that transformed Saul into the Crawler, scrawling his blasphemous sermon along the living walls of the tower/tunnel/geographic anomaly. We know that the lighthouse held a deep secret within its lens, something that the mysterious powers at Central, led by Control’s grandfather, sought to discover. We know that the psychologist was intimately involved in the creation of Area X from the beginning, growing up near the lighthouse and befriending Saul, and that connection is what drove her back to Area X.
But we don’t really know what happened. Or even where Area X actually is located. Is it a distant planet with some relativistic wormhole connecting it to Earth, or is it the catalyst of the destruction of Earth itself?
No, VanderMeer isn’t interested in answering these questions for the reader. Rather he is examining how the characters approach these ineffable mysteries. Hence the title.
The fates of Control, the biologist, the psychologist, Saul the lighthouse keeper and Assistant Director Grace were all cast the moment they first interacted with Area X. It’s not what will happen to them, but how they will respond when it does.
And that’s ultimately what the reader must do as well— accept that Area X holds mysteries that cannot be answered (and perhaps should not be answered).
The entire Southern Reach trilogy will be re-released in November as an omnibus edition titled Area X. Expect to see it rake in a chestful of nominations for next year’s awards.
Jeff VanderMeer deserves it.