Hummingbird Salamander

MCD: Farrar. Apr. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780374173548. $27. F
VanderMeer’s latest is a departure from his previous work (Borne; Ambergris; the “Southern Reach” trilogy”) in that it is less ostensibly science fiction. The story centers on a narrator who calls herself Jill, though this is not her real name. Jill is mysteriously contacted by old friend Silvina, who sends a note directing her to a storage space containing a taxidermied hummingbird. Jill is compelled to investigate Silvina and discovers a network of ecological initiatives and possible bioterrorism funded by her wealthy family. (Silvina means “of the forest” in Latin, so her character is aptly named.) Suddenly, Jill is plunged into a dangerous web of murder and violence perpetrated by former colleagues of Silvina’s, which continues until Jill narrowly escapes death and loses everything. Revelations about Jill’s family lead to a simmering conclusion.
VERDICT VanderMeer brings his trademark atmospheric and heavily lyrical writing style to the arena of species extinction and climate degradation. He shows that, in a creepily curious way, taxidermy and extinction are intertwined fates for doomed animals. There is an implied connection to the present COVID-19 pandemic, with dire consequences. Recommended for fans of the author, though mainstream readers may find the story deliberately inscrutable.
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