Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance is the last book of his Southern Reach Trilogy. My commentary of the first book in the series, Annihilation is here. My commentary on the second book in the series is Authority is here.
Told from the points of view of various characters introduced in the previous novels, this last book in the sequence follows three narratives that take place during different time periods.
One thread follows events that happened 30 years prior to the action in the first two books. It takes place in the weeks preceding the strange transformation of an area of Florida into what is known as Area X. Saul Evans is an ex-preacher who has become a lighthouse keeper. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Saul, as well as the lighthouse, is an integral part of Area X’s formation and the strange phenomena that occur within its borders. Like most of the main characters of the trilogy, the lighthouse keeper is well fleshed out and complex.
Another thread takes place shortly before the beginning of the first book in the series. It centers on an earlier director of Southern Reach, the organization tasked with the investigation of Area X. This director was known as “The Psychologist” in the first book. Here, she investigates the mysteries of Area X both from within and without. She is another well-drawn character.
The third story thread involves a trip into Area X by Control and Ghost Bird, the two main characters from book two. As the pair traverses Area X, they encounter monstrous creatures as well as bizarre events.
VanderMeer weaves an intricately plotted tale of interconnected characters and events. As the stories unfold, more and more is revealed about Area X as well as the Trilogy characters.
In this entry, the usual themes involving ecology and the inscrutability of knowledge and truth are further examined. The end of the book further reinforces some of the ongoing ideas.
As it was in the second book, the mood of this novel is varied. The narrative ranges from psychological horror, quirky humor, deep psychological character study and more. Parts of it are written in rare second person narration. This unusual style works well as it adds to a sense of disconnection from reality as well as from perception that has characterized this entire series.
At one point, the personality of the Psychologist is filled in using this style. The below use of the word “Your” is by the narrator and not by a character in the book.
“Your father had been paranoid about the government, every once in a while took on something shady to supplement the day job as a part-time bartender— a low-level grifter.”
Ultimately, some of the mysteries involving Area X are solved. VanderMeer does reveal, in very basic terms, what is behind the strange doings in Area X. But many questions, some that seemed to be on the brink of intriguing solutions, remain open. In addition, several of the stories and characters’ fates are left open ended. This fits in well with the themes presented throughout the series regarding the elusiveness of truth. It seems to be representative of our endless search for what is, at times, unattainable knowledge. Though this inconclusiveness gives the ending a thematic unity with what preceded it, I was left partially unsatisfied.
The problem is that throughout the series, many enigmas were presented. None of these mysteries seemed unsolvable. To the contrary, solving them would have helped to pull the entire narrative together. Thus, it seems that providing more explanations should have been a necessary ingredient to be included in the series wrap up. Perhaps the themes of the books could have been reinforced in some other way. Based on the intrigue raised in relation to many mysteries that VanderMeer created, more answers here would have made the entire trilogy stronger and more coherent.
Despite the lack of more fulfilling answers, this novel is filled with interesting characters and ideas. Like the previous books, the plot is compelling. It is chocked of strange events that kept me very interested. It is a page - turner. With that, I found the first book in the series Annihilation, was the best of the three.
The Southern Reach story is unique, creative and meaningful science fiction. There are numerous elements that make these works very distinctive. Despite the fact that the reader is left a bit hanging by the ending, I highly recommend this series. It is refreshingly different in many ways. Fans of strange and enigmatic stories should be very impressed. Those looking for strong characters and for meaning in their fantastical tales will also not be disappointed. These books are well worth reading.