Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on July 7, 2020
I'm 79% finished with this, and I can recommend it even before I finish it. This started out as a marketing ploy for the book "Secret Life", wherein Vandermeer was to write about the tongue in cheek "secret lives" of that book's publishers. Then, he started including other secret life stories for anyone who ordered the book. It turned into something that got out of hand and ultimately led to about 37 stories including several about various people who worked for a company called Pan Macmillan, or a building by that name, in London. The stories start out short, and gradually get longer, so that at 79% I'm reading what looks like scratched out outlines for The Strange Bird, and as it turns out, there was a real guy named Vaucanson, a French engineer who in the 18th century did create a mechanical duck that actually ate, digested, and pooped like a real duck and is more than reminiscent of The Strange Bird, and may or may not have had anything to do with a guy named Terry Tidwell, one of the people for whom Vandermeer wrote a secret life in this book. The stories are outrageous, beginning with a sentence or two that is purportedly factual information about the subject, but the rest of each story becomes an outlandish description of the subject's fictional "secret life", many of which are fairly hilarious. They must have been a group of particularly open minded subjects, because I have written only two or three such stories about people I know, since that is the limited number of people that I have met who have enough of a sense of humor to read confabulations about themselves. Most people are far too sensitive to see the value in anything about themselves that is anything but adulation and praise. Kudos to subjects like "Bob Scheffel (who) works as a librarian and ... discovered his secret life while shelving books ... (when) ... an old woman ... stopped in front of him, ... looked right at him-or, rather, at the books in front of his chest-and pulled a James Lee Burke mystery from the "stack" ... Bob stood there transfixed ...Over the weeks that followed, Bob ... thought about it while wearing a gray shirt and gray pants and standing still for twenty minutes against the gray metal sides of the shelves. ... He became an expert at ... anything that might make him invisible depending on the time, location, the state of the sky ... Bob's friends and fellow employees noticed-or rather did not notice-his transformation. "Bob's more confident", they said ... "Bob's more silent," ... "Bob's not around as much," ... He surprised people with his sudden presence in a room. ... Bob was getting close to a state he thought might mean a strange kind of omniscience." Another subject, Dave Driscoll, "enjoys shooting guns." ... Vandermeer creates his secret life beginning, ... "he has spent no little time and effort on ... building a time machine. ... with several psychotropic ... drugs, ... electrical currents ... watching the documentary Le Jete more than one hundred times, and using stolen equipment" managing to go back in time and mistakenly getting into a shoot out with Philip K. Dick and Sam Peckinpah, ending in his disappointment that they'd not believed he was only there to chat, and as ... "he slowly began to return to his own time ... he saw ... the horrified look on Philip K. Dick's face. 'What a paranoid bastard,' Driscoll thought." The entire (or 79% of the) book reads like a series of vignettes written by Dave Barry with prodigious editing by Andrew McCall Smith, which is the last thing I'd have ever expected from "monster chiller horror theater" writer Vandermeer. An amusing change of pace for fans of Dr. Death's more visceral, macabre work.