Decades ago, something unexplained happened to an area of the US that separated it from the rest of the world. As a result, a byzantine government bureaucracy now sends people on expeditions into this area to study the mystery, with varying degrees of success. As the twelfth expedition makes its way across the border that surrounds Area X, the four women involved prepare themselves to collect samples, map out the terrain within, and avoid being afflicted by whatever they find there.
This series is still one of my favourite stories of the past few years, although I have trouble pinning down why this is. ‘Something worrying is happening to the tiny cordoned piece of land’ is hardly a new concept, after all, and it isn’t as if the plot manages to stay on-course, or even make some sort of consistent sense.
I think ultimately, it’s the sheer nerve of it all that draws me in. Vandermeer took his incredibly involving writing style and a story that could have easily stood as an epic, and used them to supply the audience with as few answers as possible. Each third of the story has its own point, but as a whole the trilogy deals almost exclusively with the ways that the both physical and figerative environments the characters have been thrust into begin to shape their psyches. The plot serves more as the suggestion of a vehicle for the characters than anything, so it does’t really matter where the plot veers off to as long as it goes somewhere. This sort of story-telling occasionally drives me insane, and indeed there are a number of people these books annoy, but somehow, it works here.