Two Stories from Jeff VanderMeer’s The Third Bearby David A. Beronä
As part of a reviewing process that my friend Matt Cheney developed, I was part of a group each reading two stories from The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer. I chose the time when I had time travelling on a plane to read these stories. I found that a different setting (I usually read on my porch looking out over the hills in New Hampshire with the sound of birds in the background) physically took me out of my ordinary world, bound by gravity, into a unaccustomed world of different sights and sounds, which worked perfectly when I entered VanderMeer’s highly imaginative world.
In the first story, “Finding Sonoria,” a retired land surveyor, John Crake, discovers a stamp from the Republic of Sonoria from a collection he accumulated as a boy with the hope of traveling one day and discovering these distant countries. However, his stamps and his interest in travel waned as he grew older and settled for less, following a “path of least resistance.” John hires his friend Jim Bolger, an aging private detective down on his luck, to locate the Republic of Sonoria, which does not seem to exist on any map. The stamp and Sonoria become an obsession to each man. Jim, “in his little rotting house,” begins writing an imaginary history of Sonoria while John, “in the Murat Motel,” begins dreaming about Sonoria and finding a personal solace in his dreams that he is unaccustomed to having in reality. Despite their differences, the two men share “the same world, all because of a stamp.” How both men resolve this imaginary country in their lives raises a personal question how we individually resolve the mediocrity or restricting conditions in our own lives.
Before continuing with the next story, I peeked out the window of the jet I was seated in and saw large fields in the Midwest and small groups of homes and buildings, representing an unknown town. When I sit on my porch reading and a plane passes overhead, I take a moment and think about the people in that plane and sometimes wave, though I doubt if anyone in the plane could see me from that distance. It does not matter. I continue waving and I guess this action is more for me, claiming my own space, than for anyone else.
In the second story, “Three Days in a Border Town,” VanderMeer skillfully tells a story about a woman who is searching for her lost husband, a farmer named Delorn, who has been captured by a floating City that is “forever moving across the desert.” With the use of the pronoun, “you,” the reader becomes closely associated with the heroine, a border guard in a small town called Haart; the strange customs in this desert border town; and her search for a “familiar,” which is a manta ray-like creature whose “tube of flesh, the umbilical,” after insertion into a host, reveals visions and knows how to find the City. We are left with uncertainty about the heroine ever finding the City and questions are raised about Delorn’s choice in leaving her. Is this a lifetime quest? The improvableness of her rediscovery of the City and Delorn brought up personal loss in my own life and I counted those losses I accepted without a second thought; those I mourned for an hour, a day, a week, a month or years, and the one that I refuse to accept and am walking aimlessly in my own desert every day.
At that moment, the pilot’s voice interrupted my thoughts on the plane and announced that we were presently flying over Kansas and, at our current distance from the ground, the temperature outside was 60 degrees below zero. I gazed out the window and was suddenly aware of my own vulnerability and the mind-boggling reality of where I was at that moment. It seemed the perfect time to continue reading Jeff VanderMeer!