When I think of short stories I tend to think of realistic fiction by writers such as Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and John Updike. This type of short story has dominated annual collections such as The Best American Short Stories for quite a few years. But there is a different, often bizarre vein of short story that stretches most clearly back to Franz Kafka. Jeff VanderMeer’s short story collection The Third Bear very much follows in this vein.
The two most successful stories in the collection are “Finding Sonoria” and “The Quickening.” “Finding Sonoria” has something of a hard-boiled detective feel to it. The detective in the story accepts a case for a man who owns a stamp for a country that does not seem to exist. The man wants him to find out where the country is even though the internet comes up with no results for Sonoria. “The Quickening” centers on a girl, her Aunt Etta, and a talking rabbit named Sensio. Aunt Etta has dreams of cashing in on Sensio’s ability to speak, and the whole story has a creepy, horror story quality to it. It’s not surprising that things don’t go the way the narrator’s aunt hopes they will. I highly recommend The Third Bear, particularly to readers who, like me, sometimes find contemporary short stories a bit dull.