a reliable source sent me a video of jeffrey ford reading his story from his forthcoming collection (this summer!), Crackpot Palace: Stories and i thought i should investigate. when i finally found him shelved in a bookstore, this, i bought it -- they didn't have the other i'd marked to-read first The Empire of Ice Cream, because a) there was ice cream in the title, b) i wondered if it was inspired by the wallace stevens poem called "the emperor of ice cream" and c) it came with an introduction by jonathan carroll an author new to me but not to karen, who has championed his works, and was my conduit to carroll
, and who knows quite a bit about both books and ice cream.
i checked book reviews, and one reviewer i respect suggested ford showed his hand in this collection as a candidate for american borges, and that settled things.
the first story, "creation" did not disappoint: funny and poignant, and strange, about a boy on a sudden deciding to put what he learns in catechism into practical application. there is much more to it, though, about the boy, and his father, and growing up, and life. it's a wonderfully wrought ten pages, like a ray bradbury story with its sense of nostalgia, and innocence, underscored with a deep fear and foreboding.
the next story, "out of the canyon" i liked well enough, with its curse and its books, but the resolution left me wanting, and i began to feel uneasy. still it began to show me where the borges comparison might be mad, along with another story i really liked, the last, entitled "bright morning" the tale of a search for a certain purple edition of a collection of short stories by kafka, with one selection previously unknown to its reader, the story within the story bright morning, that continues to haunt him when he no longer has access to the book, and begins to doubt ever existed.
by the time i reached the titular story, "the fantasy writer's assistant" i began to realize this wasn't going to be one of my favourite books. the story reminded me of a mini Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and i knew this was the kind of story and its parody was the kind of funny i always shrug over, and once again, i didn't really care for the ending.
i was scared by "the delicate" and horrified by "the far oasis".
"the woman who counts her breath" and the "honeyed knot" seemed more like character sketches fully realized stories, and i began to confuse them in my mind very quickly, and i found "floating in lindrethool" to be a bit of a dud, i'm afraid.
but then there was "exo-skeleton town", a really fine piece, more in the traditional science fiction vein than some of the others, telling of a future where old hollywood movies and their stars become the currency of new perversions in a galactic economy where humans are ruled by their taste for alien bug excrement. i could wish for a dozen more like this.
ford provides background notes for each story in the collection. while they are interesting, and no doubt useful to an aspiring writer, i question their value to the reader. i found with a few of the stories inspired by real-life experiences that knowing where the idea came from didn't force me to resolve my feelings/concerns because i already had answers, if that makes any sense. in another story i found really hard to follow, "pansolapia" ford acknowledged in the associated note that it was confusing to readers which made me feel he doesn't expect me to get it, so i shouldn't bother trying again.
and so, three stars for the stories i really liked in this collection because when they worked for me, they really sang. so i am still interested in reading more ford though i'm debating whether i should try another short story collection or a novel next...