Sunday, 8 August 2010
Jeff Vandermeer, The Third Bear (2010)
Vandermeer is a very good writer of novels, but he is a great writer of shorter pieces. I'm a little in awe, actually, of how good the stories in this collection are.
Why should he be better at shorter fiction than at longer length work? It may be because his greatest strengths as a writer are not so much on the side of plotting (though there's nothing wrong with his plotting) and more on the side of mood, tone, and flavour. It may not be coincidental that the weakest story in this collection is also the longest: the novella-length Frankenstein-retread 'The Surgeon's Tale' (this was co-written with Cat Rambo, so its hard to say whether Vandermeer or Rambo is responsible for individual examples of thesaurometastasised writing, as when a 'gangly old man' is described as 'as though his limbs were made of sticks of chalk, wired together with ulnar ligaments of seaweed, pilllowing bursae formed from the sacs of decaying anemones', 211). Conversely, one of the collection’s best pieces, ‘Shark God Versus Octopus God' isn't about the story as such; which is to say, the story pans out exactly as you expect it to. But the story is witty, memorable and wise; beautifully judged, tonally and in terms of mood. And the title story, perhaps the best of all, is as much about refused conventional narrative expectations as anything else: a muscular, expert fable of the incomprehensibility of violence.