Borne by Jeff VanderMeer | Review
Publication: New York : MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction, Science Fiction, Weird Fiction
Formats: eBook, Audiobook, Paperback
Is Borne a person or a weapon? This is often proposed as the heart of the questions that permeate the identity crises in this book. Are people what they seem or even what they demand to be recognized as in their claimed inherent identities? Or are we all simply subject to what the rest of the world wants us to be without thought of what our individual potential could allow us to become if we were given a choice?
While I’ve found these questions are what most of the other reviews on this book seem to center around, I was also struck by this book’s ability to home in on ideas of perspective as linked to motherhood. To me, perspective, especially as has to do with one’s relationship to one’s parent-figures, is often at the heart of many an identity crisis. Parents, especially mothers, have such power to reflect a projected identity that this phenomenon often leaves little room, as innocently as it may be offered, for any perspective other than that very same reflection. But reflected perspective is often what holds us in the illusion of reality, it weighs us down just enough to allow a semblance of sanity. However, even as we simultaneously try to escape this reflecting pool, new responsibilities of the self-made kind need to arise to keep at bay the confusion inherent in cutting the umbilical cords.
To give an example from this book: Borne is presented as a newly formed child in the mind of VanderMeer’s main character through much of the narrative. This main character takes on the mothering tasks of teaching her new charge the essentials of survival, everything from language to ascertaining what entities in their universe propose danger. The weight of this mother-child relationship gives form to the perspectives this main character uses to bind herself with tasks and goals toward protecting both the child she has found in Borne’s identity and toward cementing her own purpose of “raising” him from seedling-sprout to raging bio-technical defender of the world.
Yet it is the former that demands a releasing of the mothering-identity of the main character, as the weight of her self-imposed responsibilities become at once too much to bear and as unreachable as a piece of fluff battered by a strong wind. I found this aspect of the novel, the breaking away from self-made perspectives to make room for the child-character’s independence, rang with extreme heartbreak in its metaphor of the mother-and-child relationship. The scene where Borne offers protection to his mother-figure by enveloping her as a rock-shield in the face of deathly adversaries could easily be seen as the turning point in their relationship, as the protected becomes the protector. In this scene, Borne is challenged to take up the reins of initiative.
VanderMeer does a brilliant job of letting the reader at this point wonder whether Borne had ever been in need of the main character’s protection to begin with. And, again, this has to do most deeply with perspective. VanderMeer’s main character struggles with this shift of perspective as she has to more and more contend with Borne’s self-imposed independence. This is so similar to the reactions of many (and there are always exceptions) of the mothers I’ve witnessed in my journey on this terrestrial plane. The burden of raising a child often eventually turns in on itself and suddenly becomes the unbearable lightness of being left behind by that same child as they slowly but surely claim their individual identity that can often be so painfully separate from their mother-figure.
There’s a ton to unpack here and the depth of the available themes in this book had me within the first few paragraphs. VanderMeer has a masterpiece in Borne that his earlier books seem to be reaching toward. Or maybe I have a hangup on the level of irresistible intrigue with regard to the concepts noted above. Or perhaps, I’m simply in love with the audiobook narrator who did the honors on this book (Bahni Turpin, you’re truly brilliant). In any case, I found this to be a fantastic novel, on all the measures listed in my previous post about what elevates a piece of literature.