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Shriek: An Afterword: 04/14/10
The strange cover with an old manual typewriter covered with white mushrooms caught my eye at the library. After weeks of ignoring the book I gave in a checked out Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer. It's the story of Janice and Duncan Shriek and their unusual adult lives after being left emotionally adrift after the unexpected death of their father and their mother's mental breakdown.
It's written in the style of the serious bits of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is further confused by Duncan's edited in commentary [which always comes in square brackets like this and is very hard on the eyes]. What it lacks are the humorous sections and illustrations that go with Moby Dick. If you don't have a copy of Moby Dick with illustrations, find a copy!
The next big strike against the book for me is the setting: Ambergris. It's apparently the second book set in this unfortunately named town, the first being City of Saints and Madmen. I have not read the first book so I can't say if it helps one understand the setting. I can tell you that the name only made me think of the scene where the whale vomits on Kif in "Three Hundred Big Boys" (Futurama Season 5, episode 11). Which brings us back to Moby Dick who was after all a sperm whale (source of ambergris).
Shriek ended up being a "did not finish" book for me. I really wanted to like it. I really wanted to finish it but I just couldn't. I wanted to know more about Duncan's story but not with him butting in as editorial asides. Better options would have been: the book written in Duncan's voice without his sister, alternating chapters so both characters could tell their stories, or two separate stories that work together bound up like Tim Roux's Blue Food Revolution (review coming).