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A Natural History of Hell

posted by: October 18, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for A Natural History of HellIn Jeffrey Ford’s new collection A Natural History of Hell, there is such a variety of creepiness and at such different comfort levels that I feel I should offer a travel guide to whoever reads this book. Something like:

 

  1. Here lie straight creeps.

  2. Here’s one night’s lost sleep.

  3. If you read this story you’ll only be able to eat bananas, rice and applesauce for a week.

But for those with an appetite and a broad palate for horror, there’s not likely to be a better book this year.

Many of these stories take place sometime in a Nathaniel Hawthorne-esque past, or other liminal areas where bizarre traditions overtake common sense. The opening story “The Blameless” sets the table, with a couple receiving an invitation to a neighborhood girl’s exorcism. Surprisingly, the couple finds their neighbors celebrating the supposed banishing of a demon with the small-portioned enthusiasm of a bat mitzvah.
 
Elsewhere, Ford ably glides between genre lines. Some of his stories don’t seem like horror at all until he drops the floor out from under you. For instance, in “The Angel Seems,” an angel comes to a small village offering protection. For a while, the story resembles Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” and then it turns and you realize it’s been re-written by Clive Barker.

There are also ghost stories, fantasies with dark wizards and even a story about gun control if monsters aren’t scary enough for you. Ford’s use of imagery and violence is implemented masterfully and tastefully throughout, creating an experience that is less like a horror movie than a nightmare weighted with meaning. Have fun!

 


 
 

Revised: October 18, 2016