Big, Dark Hole, Jeffrey Ford (Small Beer Press 978-1-618-73184-5, $17, 320pp, tp) July 2021.
No matter how bizarre a situation is or may rapidly become in a Jeffrey Ford story, the reader feels instantly at home, open and accepting of everything that one should never be open and accepting of. In “The Match”, from new collection Big, Dark Hole, an adjunct professor gets a letter in the mail telling him he must wrestle with an angel if he wants to keep teaching. Okay, what happens next? Run into the local monster behind the laundromat on your way home with your clean clothes, as in “Monster Eight”? Sure, go on. That painting the South Jersey artist is sure will lead to death if ever finished in “The Thousand Eyes”? Seems about right. A fairy in “The Bookcase Expedition” plants a flag – “a tattered postage stamp fastened to a cat’s whisker” into your knee as if you were “an undiscovered country”? Ow. Then what? A tentacled something comes hurtling out of the sky in a snowstorm (“Not Without Mercy”)? Well, I know this is not going to turn out for the best. In “From the Balcony of the Idawolf Arms” two latchkey children dutifully and bravely deal with a supernaturally threatening neighbor. “The Jeweled Wren” begins in a lighthearted manner but turns into a frightening cautionary tale when an older couple investigate the “circumstantial evidence” of a nearby house being haunted. A decision to take down a disappointing Christmas tree in “The Winter Wraith” turns into something uncannily threatening. The title story tells of a boy who disappears into a sewer pipe, never to be seen again, and, many years later, the unreliable narrator relating the tale adds to the mystery. In “Thanksgiving”, “Uncle Jake,” a long-time guest at the annual family holiday meal turns out to be not only unrelated but something strange indeed. A newcomer to rural Ohio finds a nemesis in a black pickup truck and its driver in “Five Pointed Spell”. Fleas bring death to members of a Depression-era carnival in “Hibbler’s Minions”. The “Inn of the Dreaming Dog” is a very peculiar hotel that lies so far west one needs a guide to get there and more than luck to leave it. Ford even ventures into retold Greek mythology and afterlife with “Sisyphus in Elysium”. It’s not so much that Ford drags you into the weird in these 15 collected stories, it’s that the weird seems to be a quite natural place to be. And that, once you think about it, is a very unsettling thing. Definitely recommended.
Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.
This review and more like it in the July 2021 issue of Locus.
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