After talking so abstractly about criticism last week, I felt that delving into a book was necessary for this week’s column. My choice is Jeffrey Ford’s Crackpot Palace, a book about which I am sure I could pen a lengthy thesis. It is his most recent collection of stories and demonstrates his versatility as a writer, ranging from SF and heroic fantasy to unsettling surrealism and earthy realism. To show my bias from the start, I think it is one of the best short story collections of the year, even though a few of the stories fell flat for me. Ford applies his prodigious writing skills to the creation of stories whose fantastical elements seduce and disrupt the reader’s expectations. Ford can read like great American literature or SFnal pulp, but there are always shadows and depths that run through his tales, and they can be treacherous or enlightening as you fall into them.
Regardless of any genre affectations or fantastical content, life is inherently strange in Ford’s stories. One of Ford’s great strengths is that his writing slyly leads you to embrace what is happening, not by normalizing the strange and marvelous but by creating a tone that makes the fantastic inseparable from the seemingly innocuous writing. To be anchored to the illogic of the world presented, the reader must not merely see through a character’s eyes so much as coalesce how they experience and shape the story of the world being told. A sense of place is channeled through the characters’ actions and responses to be felt and assembled by the reader. This is not a unique method of creating a feeling of being elsewhere in a story, but Ford is particularly masterful at its execution.