The Drowned Life (P.S.)
by Jeffrey Ford
Review by Colleen Cahill
Harper Perennial Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061435065
Date: 01 November 2008 List Price $13.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Fantastic literature comes in many levels, from just a subtle touch of the unusual to mind blowing fantasies and everything between. Jeffrey Ford has shown mastery of all types of speculative fiction over the years and his newest collection, The Drowned Life only reinforces his reputation, with works that emphasis the bizarreness of an unusual liquor to ones that center on how mustard can be used for art. Ford once again takes us to fabulous places, made all the more so because they seem so possible.
Certainly some of the stories in this collection have strong elements of fantasy. In "The Night Whiskey", a "native drink, black as a crow wing and slow to pour as cough syrup" is the magic element: it allows the drinker to see and talk to the dead. One young man is being trained on the job of gently bringing the drinkers back to reality after their time with those who have passed on. The very surreal elements within "In the House of Four Seasons" kept me off balance while reading, but also evoked a strange feeling of otherness. This is a piece that is easier to experience than describe. It is easy to see the fantasy elements in "Under the Bottom of the Lake", as it opens with "a grotto guarded by stalactites and stalagmites, like the half-open maw of a stone dragon", but there is also the mundane in a pair of teens just hanging out, dealing with all the issues of that age. This mix melds the everyday and the fantastic, making the latter seem real.
One of Ford's strengths is to also see the wonder in the everyday. A son teasing his father about replacing cigarettes with hot dogs as he tries to quit smoking leads to works of art in mustard in "The Fat One". "Ariadne's Mother" is a brief story about a mother who brings her very disabled daughter to a writing class; it shines with the hopes and dreams that exist even after a possibility is gone. These stories are warm and touch the heart, but Ford can also bring a chill, as he does in "The Bedroom Light", where a couple discuss a very disturbing neighbor child, one who made me think of The Bad Seed.
The title story, "The Drown Life" at first seems a fantastic piece, as a man overwhelmed by the "skies dark with daily news" sinks to the "long empty avenues of Drowned Town, a shabby but quiet city in a lime green sea." This story has an allegorical feel, with a message about this life, not a place of wonder.
Certainly any fan of Ford's work is going to find the same excellent writing they have come to expect. The great thing about this author is he consistently takes his stories to unexpected places and even seasoned readers of his work are surprised. As with all his writing, I highly recommend The Drowned Life as a collection of the fantastic and of the heart.