A Natural History of Hell – Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of HellA Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I let A Natural History of Hell sit on my shelf for two and a half years before I read it! I’d enjoyed a story or two by Ford, but I can’t recall what made me want to buy this collection. It was probably a blurb describing the stories in a way that piqued my interest, followed by a review gushing about how good Ford is. That usually does it. I’ve purchased many a short-story collection this way.

I loved it. His stories have such interesting premises delivered on by great characters.

My journey through the book was a little trippy. There was a story I’d read years ago in an anthology that I had no memory of reading, and I thought it was great. I don’t know how it got so completely erased from my brain, but I’m okay with a little bit of weirdness to keep my life interesting. When I closed the book, I felt that I-need-to-read-more-by-this-person feeling. Lucky me, Ford has quite the body of work for me to add to my tbr bookcase. I hope I don’t take two and a half years next time.

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The End of the End of Everything – Dale Bailey

The End of the End of EverythingThe End of the End of Everything by Dale Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Dale Bailey because his prose makes me want to write and when his stories speak to me, they sing.

I only connected with some of the stories in this collection – “The Bluehole,” “A Rumor of Angels,” and “Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe” – and I’m not wholly certain what differentiates them from the other stories. It might be as simple as my connection to the characters. Once I look past Bailey’s prose, his characters all possess a realness I find compelling. It keeps me reading even when I don’t like them or I’m tired of their type: i.e., Ben Devine in the title story, yet another middle-aged mediocre white-guy writer who has affairs with co-eds and navel gazes about his own mediocrity. I’ve read enough of those stories. I wanted to love “Troop 9,” but I think it would have been an ideal story for me if it was written by a woman, about women (I’m thinking in particular of Ellen Klages, and recalling her story “Woodsmoke”) instead of being about men in the end. I can see and appreciate the things Bailey is doing in these stories, the ways he interrogates the tropes, uses Ben as a lens for the world-goes-to-ruin scenario, uses John Hardesty to explore the effects or war and toxic masculinity on women and a community in a place and a time, but I’d rather read those stories through the gazes of different people, like Tom and Lily (“Rumor of Angels”) or Eleanor (“Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe”).

But that prose is so smooth and lovely, those ideas and details strange and alluring. Goddamn if I don’t want to grab everything Bailey’s written and gobble it up.

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Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2 – Kathe Koja (ed.)

Year's Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2 by Kathe Koja

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I tried reading Kathe Koja’s novel Under the Poppy and couldn’t get into it, which was disappointing, since she’s billed as such a stylist. I had expected to love her work.

Although I failed to connect with that particular novel, I found my common sensibilities with Koja in this anthology, her selection of the best weird fiction from 2014. She has an ear for language that resonates with mine. I liked almost love every story in this anthology, and appreciated the gorgeous writing even if the story didn’t grab and shake me.

My standouts were K. M. Ferebee’s “The Earth and Everything Under,” Kima Jones’s “Nine,” Sunny Moraine’s “So Sharp That Blood Must Flow,” and Isabel Yap’s “A Cup of Salt Tears,” which I read upon its first publication by Tor.com, and was more than happy to revisit. I’m excited to find more work from K. M. Ferebee – I’ve been thinking about that story for weeks.

Upon further research, I seem to have read two of Koja’s short stories, in the anthologies The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest and Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: an Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, but have no distinct recollection of either story or what I thought about them, except that I enjoyed both anthologies. Both are still on my shelf, so I may revisit her stories. Then again, perhaps I should leave well enough alone; I would hate to go back and discover that I didn’t like them.

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