A review of

Shriek: An Afterword

by Jeff VanderMeer

Central question: Which can have a more lasting hallucinatory effect, books or mushrooms?
Format: 352 pp., cloth; Size:6-1/8" x 9-1/4" Price: $24.95; Publisher: Tor Books; Editor: Liz Gorinsky; Typeface: Caslon Regular; Author’s father’s hobby: Absurd mouse-catching inventions; Musical influence: Novel was written to back catalog of the Church; Inspiration for the fungal bullets eaten by starving war survivors in the novel: The U.S. aid packets and U.S. bombs dropped in Afghanistan of roughly the same shape and color; Representative sentence: “There are lots of available positions for a paranoid, discredited, fringe historian with a fungal disorder who has recently been laid off for laying his students.”

It’s not clear what obsesses Jeff VanderMeer more, mushrooms or books. Both appear on almost every page of his new novel Shriek: An Afterword, in which disgraced historian Duncan Shriek seeks to uncover the mystery of a race of mushroom people with mysterious fungal plans, who lurk below the surface of the moss-covered city of Ambergris. VanderMeer’s previous novels are part of a fantasy sub-genre, often categorized as the New Weird. While Shriek certainly contains fantasy elements, it doesn’t fit into any strictly delineated genre. There are more ideas here than flights of fancy; VanderMeer owes more to Borges than Tolkien.

VanderMeer conjures a neo-Victorian city which is as much a character as anyone in the novel. It provides a perfectly decadent setting for its melancholic inhabitants, who are made more real, and sadder, by the impossible strangeness of their home. Duncan’s art-dealing sister, Janice, narrates the epic story of her brother’s quest. Together, they negotiate doomed love affairs, drug addiction, lust, suicide, war, and the writing and publishing of books. Her voice is formal, but it throbs with gloom and mustiness. The stiff prose only makes the appearance of so much fecundity unsettling.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Peter Bebergal

Peter Bebergal is coauthor, with Scott Korb, of the book The Faith Between Us, forthcoming from Bloomsbury. Some of his recent writing has appeared in the Jewish Quarterly and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He is also an editor at zeek.net.

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