Hummingbird Salamander is a (very) slow-burn story about an upper middle class woman who gets roped into a chaotic maelstrom of multinational corporations, wildlife trafficking, and explosive family dynamics. It took me a while to get used to Jeff Vandermeer’s flowy, water-like prose, and longer still to get into the story itself. But once I was in, I was in.
Our main character, Jane, is given a mysterious folder in one of the opening scenes which begins a wild goose chase during which she chases a series of cryptic clues around the country in search of more information about the mysterious daughter of an Argentine businessman. Immediately, I was drawn in by Jane—due in large part to the way Vandermeer writes. We get an intimate view of her inner thoughts, and the book is riddled with flashbacks and an emotional inner monologue that helps build a very full picture of this woman.
There were sections that felt like a slog to get through, where I felt bogged down by the lack of progress, but the payoff at the end makes it all worth it. In fact after marinating on the book for a few days, my enthusiasm for it has grown.
At its core, I believe Hummingbird Salamander is a lament for a disappearing world. One in which species are going extinct at breakneck speed. It is honest about what our near future will look like, what it will be like to experience it. It will not be a sudden and violent collapse, it will be a slow decay that grinds our bones to dust. It is about idealism, and progress, and the lengths capitalism will go to in order to bash them into submission.
The speculative elements are quite light in this book, which makes it a bit different from what I normally read, but I must say that I enjoyed it a lot.