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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

“The Drowned Life” by Jeffrey Ford (Reviewed by Jacques Barcia)

Jeffrey Ford @ Wikipedia
Order “The Drowned LifeHERE
Read Reviews via Paul Jessup

The Drowned Life is the newest collection by Jeffrey Ford, one of the most acclaimed writers in the field, especially recognized for his short stories. There are sixteen stories in The Drowned Life, distributed over 290 pages. Some of them are pure fantasy, while others have no speculative elements of note. Most of them though, could be put in the magic realism field, or stories that are grounded in reality but not quite so. In other words, some unexplainable things do happen in the character’s lives, but those same things are not as terrible or shocking as the events of daily life.

This is more evident in stories like “Present From the Past”, “What’s Sure to Come”, “The Scribble Mind” and “The Golden Dragon”, pieces in which magic is depicted subtly—for instance, a ghostly presence, a card divination, the memory of the uterus, and a curse—and it’s definitely not as disturbing as mundane occurrences like family reunions, greed or drug addiction. But that next layer of unreality is there, for those who look for them. Not the cause, nor the consequence, just another fact of life.

Other titles such as “The Drowned Life” and “The Night Whiskey” make some bizarre facts completely acceptable and quotidian. In the former, the character literally “goes under”, to a drowned city where suicides perpetually rot underwater, but maintain a quite normal society. In the latter, people from a small city drink a certain beverage and make contact with the afterlife year after year . . . until a homicide destroys their lives.

Ford subverts the concept of “strange facts disrupt reality and characters either rationalize it or try to bring their lives back to the former condition”. The biggest example of this can be seen in “The Dreaming Wind”, in which a city is ravaged every year by a wind that blows southward and causes havoc, such as turning people into chairs, or balloons. When the wind stops coming though, simple life makes them miserable.

But there is also “traditional” fantasy and science fiction in Ford’s collection. In “The Manticore Spell”, the corpse of the mythical monster is captured by a wizard and his pupil, both of whom will be changed by the creature’s magic. In “The Dismantled Invention of Fate”, there’s enough for a whole novel: a space explorer, an alien trapped inside her dreams, a robot hunter and a machine to save the universe’s fate.

One story didn’t work for me: “The Bedroom Light”, which lacks the tension of reality and the strangeness of magic present in the other fifteen awesome stories. On the opposite side, “Under the Bottom of the Lake” is surely one of the best short stories I have read this year. Metafictional, beautiful, magical and, what’s best, simple, “Under the Bottom of the Lake” is a lesson in storytelling and style.

In the end, The Drowned Life is a book that shows off the strength of Jeffrey Ford’s diverse imagination and will surely please all fans of good literature, regardless of tastes…


Calibandar said...

Bought this as well, really looking forward to getting into it.

Vanessa said...

I absolutely loved these stories. He is a wonderful author, and I can not wait to read more of his books. If they all are as creative as these short stories, I am sure I will enjoy it.

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