Published in 2010, the book is a collection of stories that could be described as magic realism or could be described as just plain unsettling. His works have a dreamy sensibility but those dreams often veer into the nightmare.
I really enjoyed this book. The story that really hooked me in the was the second one, The Quickening, about a girl being given something that looks like a rabbit but speaks.
I thought I had the story all figured out, that the possibly magical creature would drive the aunt insane who would then kill it, making it a symbol of lost innocence and lost childhood. Instead, the girl kills her aunt, giving me a sense of relief that that rabbit lives and then asking myself why I’m relieved a little girl became a murderer. And then Vandermeer gives us one last disturbing flashback of the speaking creature eating rabbit stew, bones and all, making us really question what it is and how benevolent is it really?
(End of spoilers)
The Quickening is not the best story in the collection. Stories like the Situation or Errata fight for that title. But it let me know I was looking at a collection that didn’t give easy explanations or interpretations. It let me know that I was in for mysteries without solutions.
In the afterward of The Third Bear, Vandermeer wrote that he intentionally didn’t write forwards or afterwards for the stories because he didn’t want the readers to know his interpretations but to discover their own.
I have read some reviews that felt like the stories were incomplete and flawed because there is so much that isn’t filled in. And if the stories were even a little less well written, I’d agree with that. However, I am going to say that Vandermeer writes well enough that he pulls it off.
The Third Bear isn’t a happy book. It isn’t an easy book. But it is a rewarding book.