Jeff VanderMeer: The Weird Thoreau

Rothman-The-Weird-Thoreau-690Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker:

The three weirdest books I read last year were all by the same writer. His name is Jeff VanderMeer, he’s from Tallahassee, Florida, and he’s the King of Weird Fiction. He writes in the genre—his 2009 novel “Finch” is a detective story, reminiscent of “Blade Runner,” set in a city divided between normal people and mushroom people—and he champions it: with his wife, the influential sci-fi and fantasy editor Ann VanderMeer, he’s edited the anthologies “The Weird” and “The New Weird.” It’s self-defeating, of course, to try and define weirdness (although VanderMeer has offered definitions). A lot of fiction, moreover, merely pretends to it, invoking its atmosphere without being, in fact, all that weird.

Still, when you’re in the presence of the genuine, uncanny article, you know. Stephen King is tremendously imaginative, but H. P. Lovecraft is weird; Kafka is probably the ultimate weird writer. In VanderMeer’s “Finch,” the mushroom people (“gray caps”) are people-shaped, and they can seem like character in an ordinary detective novel. (“You stupid fucking mushroom” a cop says while interrogating one of them. “Answer the question.”) But, standing next to one, you feel its “humid weight.” You can torture a mushroom person by pouring water on its head, but if you cut it into pieces it stays cold and dry.

more here.