The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Rick Klaw, June 30, 2006, Books

Shriek: An Afterword

by Jeff VanderMeer

Tor, 352 pp., $24.95

Jeff VanderMeer's wildly inventive new novel is the afterword to the nonexistent history of a fictional city. After completing the classic The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris, controversial historian Duncan Shriek disappeared, leaving his sister Janice Shriek to supply the much-needed afterword.

Janice Shriek's piece evolves into a memoir of the siblings: their family, their loves, and, most importantly, their failures. Banned by the Court of Kalif – this reality's Catholic Church – as heresy, Duncan's first book, On the Refraction of Light in a Prison, a critical and financial success, made him a minor celebrity. Ironically, later in life he would work as a professor for a Kalif university. Duncan's second book, Cinsorium: Dispelling the Myth of the Gray Caps, on the mysterious fungal beings living beneath Ambergris, destroyed his fledging career, furthered his notoriety, and affords the most humorous scene in this book. In a spot-on parody of the publishing world, the publisher of Duncan's previous effort berates and blames him for all the problems of the world, society, and, quite possibly, existence itself.

Duncan's relationship with the Gray Caps and his subsequent books intertwines with Janice's life, which finds her becoming a successful art gallery owner and eventually a bitter, disillusioned old woman. After Janice finished the afterword, her brother resurfaced and added his commentary to her work. The interaction between the siblings throughout grounds Shriek and elevates VanderMeer's story above the works of his contemporaries. Their relationship reads more true than many in so-called literary novels. Readers will recognize the bickering, love, and trust that could only exist between siblings.

VandeerMeer first introduced Ambergris in an intriguing series of novellas, collected as City of Saints and Madmen. Shriek: An Afterword is his first full-length novel set in the mythical city. With literary stylings, a complex plot, and ideas that lesser writers could not imagine, it further establishes him as the finest fantasist of his generation.

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