A Natural History of Hell

Jeffrey Ford  - published July 2016

July 12, 2016 · trade paper · 282 pages · $16 · 9781618731180 | ebook · 9781618731197
May 2017: second printing

World Fantasy Award winner
Shirley Jackson Award winner
Ohioana Book Award finalist
Locus Award finalist

Read a story on Lithub: A Natural History of Autumn

A book of fantastic stories about the hell on earth that is living.

Emily Dickinson takes a carriage ride with Death. A couple are invited over to a neighbor’s daughter’s exorcism. A country witch with a sea-captain’s head in a glass globe intercedes on behalf of abused and abandoned children. In July of 1915, in Hardin County, Ohio, a boy sees ghosts. Explore contemporary natural history in a baker’s dozen of exhilarating visions.

Library Journal: Early Scares: Halfway to Halloween | The Reader’s Shelf
In the critically acclaimed A Natural History of Hell: Stories Jeffrey Ford gathers 13 previously published stories into one collection that mixes fantasy and horror and shows his talent for distinctive sagas in which evil lurks just under the surface. Each installment relies on a dark and anxious mood with varying levels of speculative influence, outcast characters, and shocking conclusions. It opens with public exorcisms in the compelling and disquieting “The Blameless.” From there it ventures into vignettes as diverse as the “true” ghost story behind an Emily Dickinson poem and the sinister “Blood Drive,” in which every high school senior is required to carry a gun.

Joel Cunningham, B&N, The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Collections and Anthologies of 2016
“Jeffrey Ford is probably writing your dreams…. If you’re looking for something you haven’t seen before, look no further than these 13 stories.”

Publishers Weekly: Holiday Gift Guide:
“This is the perfect reader-who-has-everything gift for fantasy fans with a literary bent or vice versa. Ford brilliantly cross-pollinates the grim suburban settings of literary fiction with fantastical elements, adding dashes of humor and empathy to provide some light in dark days.”

Listen: Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy interview.

Table of Contents

The Blameless
Word Doll
The Angel Seems
Mount Chary Galore
A Natural History of Autumn
The Fairy Enterprise
The Thyme Fiend
The Last Triangle
Hibbler’s Minions
Rocket Ship to Hell
The Prelate’s Commission
A Terror
Blood Drive [audio]

Reviews &c.

“Ford specializes in employing vivid and precise language to portray the inexplicable, often with great intensity or deadpan humor. In his odd but compelling stories, strange things happen for reasons that are never made completely clear but that demand attention even as they grow ever more disturbing. A Natural History of Hell is an excellent sampler of Ford’s singular brand of storytelling, a baker’s dozen of diverse and diverting literary treats.”
— Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

“Formally Ford’s stories are object lessons in how to stage a narrative.”
— James Sallis, F&SF

“In this collection of 13 stories, Ford showcases his award-winning talent for crafting creepy tales that bend the world as we know it in unexpected ways. Although the stories are not linked, they do share a common theme: wickedness lurking just beneath the surface of everyday life. And while each uses different degrees of the supernatural to get there, all employ a dark and uneasy atmosphere, quirky characters, and thought-provoking endings, with delightfully unsettling results. . . . This collection is a good choice for fans of short stories by Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, or Kevin Brockmeier.”
Booklist Online (starred review)

RT Book reviews

Publishers Weekly Best Books of Summer:
“Celebrated short-form fantasist Ford blends subtle psychological horror with a mix of literary history, folklore, and SF in this collection of 13 short stories, all focused on the struggles, sorrows, and terrors of daily life. Each tale gently twists perceptions, diving down into the ordinary and coming back out with a thoughtful nugget of the extraordinary. Readers will be alarmed by how easily they relate to the well-meaning but inevitably destructive characters.”

“The polished assurance of the prose is breathtaking, while the evocation of character is completely natural. Ford seems able to segue from patrician objectivity to dirty realist down home talk without apparent effort.”
See the Elephant

A Natural History of Hell is a chimera: his stories combine surrealist (il)logic with both terrifying and familiar characters and situations. The stories braid together fantasy and history, the near-biography with the almost-mystery, and the result is surprising and enchanting and wonderful.” — Hazel and Wren

“Jeffrey Ford is probably writing your dreams. It’s the best way to describe his surreal style, which frequently relies on an internal structure and logic to convey images that teeter between odd fantasy and unsettling horror, while remaining impossibly grounded in a tangible reality. A Natural History of Hell (out in July) goes to some odd places, with genre-bending stories about artists trapped on a rocket ship, imaginary serial murderers, and God being torn apart by an angry mob, but it leaves plenty of room for beauty, however dark. It also contains one of my personal favorite stories from last year, “Word Doll,” in which children are lured into a world of make-believe. If you’re looking for something you haven’t seen before, look no further than these 13 stories.”
Standout stories: “A Rocket Ship to Hell,” “The Blameless”
Barnes & Noble: 7 Essential New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Story Collections

“Seamlessly blends subtle psychological horror with a mix of literary history, folklore, and SF in this collection of 13 short stories, all focused on the struggles, sorrows, and terrors of daily life.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“13 tales that revel in the dark and strange, exhibiting ardent and pliable storytelling that ranges from suburban exorcisms to ghosts in bucolic 1915 Ohio. Each story in this collection displays Ford’s vigorous invention and witty idiosyncrasy in explorations of the wicked and violent corners of the imagination, but the variety of subject, setting, and tone ensures that the book never slips into an authorial haze. . . . The entire collection has a zeal for imagination and an unabashed pleasure in both entertainment and graceful writing that is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s short fiction. Ford has a knack for choosing the precise words that evoke an image and leave enough room for it to bloom. “Later, the rain started in again. The sound and smell of spring came through the screen of their bedroom window while he dreamt in the language the angels dream in, and she, of the land without worry.”
Kirkus Reviews

“What distinguishes this collection of tales by New York fantasy writer Jeffrey Ford is its mix of eerie, sometimes violent subject matter and droll narrative voice; the juxtaposition of modern, ordinary settings and dialogue with the strange and the supernatural makes for memorable reading.”
Daily Hampshire Gazette

“‘The Blameless’ is . . . a perfect example of Ford’s eerie subversion of mundane life. In it, suburban parents have begun throwing their children exorcisms as rites of passage, and the premise delivers plenty of black humor and bone-dry social satire.”
— Jason Heller, NPR

“A series of hits that linger long after you’ve finished reading. The mundane seems fantastical when penned by Ford, and the fantastical dreadfully human. Stories range from surreal daily life, to epic fantasy, to Gothic Americana and far, far beyond. It’s hard to pick a favorite, so I recommend you read them all.”
RT Book Reviews ****

“An excellent collection of stories.”
Weird Fiction Review

“A truly outstanding writer.”

Throughout his bounteous career, Jeffrey Ford has fully figured out which experiments work, and in what direction; the miracle is that he has also figured out how to rewrite the rulebook with his own brand of magic.
— Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, IGMS

“Delightful, terrifying, thoughtful and incredibly well written. Jeffrey Ford’s style is eloquent and accessible, literary and engaging. His stories have an engrossing, almost mythological feel to them, strengthened by well-placed descriptions, impeccable pacing and Ford’s rare talent for delivering a satisfying ending.” — Catherine Grant, Huffington Post

“No one writes more beautifully about American nightmares and dreams. Every story is great but my favorites are ‘Word Doll,’ ‘Rocket Ship to Hell,’ ‘The Last Triangle,’ and — especially — ‘The Prelate’s Commission.’ Ford takes ideas that most writers would cling to and milk for three or four or five hundred pages and tosses them off left and right like they were nothing on his way to new worlds he seems to create out of thin air. If these stories weren’t so god damn enjoyable they’d make me jealous as hell.” — Ben Loory, author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

“Jeffrey Ford is a beautifully disorienting writer, a poet in an unclassifiable genre—his own.”—Joyce Carol Oates

“Jeffrey Ford is a true heir to his teacher, John Gardner—not only in his ability to inhabit an astonishing range of styles and different worlds with jaw-dropping verisimilitude, but also in the great-hearted compassion and depth that he brings to his characters. I have long admired and learned from his work, and I’m grateful to have these beautiful stories to contemplate.”—Dan Chaon

“Combining legend and suspense, terror and darkly comic social commentary, Jeffrey Ford brings our greatest fears to life in this terrific collection. A Natural History of Hell is jammed with stories I wish I had written.”—Kit Reed

Praise for Jeffrey Ford’s award-winning books:

“Outstanding. . . . Ford uses . . . incongruously lyrical phrases to infuse the everyday with a nebulous magic.”—Publishers Weekly, Best Books of the Year (Starred Review)

“For lovers of the weird and fantastic and lovers of great writing, this is a treasure trove of disturbing visions, new worlds and fully realized craft.”—Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)

“Properly creepy, but from time to time deliciously funny and heart-breakingly poignant, too.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“Surreal, unsettling, and more than a little weird. Ford has a rare gift for evoking mood with just a few well-chosen words and for creating living, breathing characters with only a few lines of dialogue.” —Booklist

“Children are the original magic realists. The effects that novelists of a postmodern bent must strive for come naturally to the young, a truth given inventive realization in this wonderful quasi-mystery tale by Jeffrey Ford.” — Boston Globe on The Shadow Year

“Jeffrey Ford s latest triumph, The Shadow Year, is as haunting as it is humorous readers will recognize real talent in Ford s vivid, unerring voice.” —Louisville Courier Journal on The Shadow Year

“Superb, heartbreaking, and masterfully written . . . It s proof of Jeffrey Ford s narrative power that, ultimately, the distinction [between real and invented] doesn t much matter. His made-up world trumps ours.” — Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Shadow Year captures the totality of a lived period, its actualities and its dreams, its mundane essentials and its odd subjective imperatives; it is a work of episodic beauty and mercurial significance.”–Nick Gevers, Locus

“Jeffrey Ford is one of the few writers who uses wonder instead of ink in his pen.”— Jonathan Carroll, author of The Wooden Sea

“Unusual and provocative…sometimes shocking, sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes humorous, this collection will please fans of Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor. Recommended.” — School Library Journal on The Drowned Life

“Spooky and hypnotic…Recommended for all public libraries.” — Library Journal

“Ford travels deep into the wild country that is childhood in this novel . . . the observations and adventures of these sharp, wayward children provide more than enough depth to be satisfying.” — New York Times on The Shadow Year

“A collection of surreal, melancholy stories dealing with everything from worlds of the drifting dead to drunken tree parties. Ford is the author of the superlative, creepy Well-Built City trilogy and his writing is both powerful and disturbing in the best possible way.” — Gawker on The Drowned Life

“[Ford’s] writing is both powerful and disturbing in the best possible way.” — io9.com

“The 16 stories in this collection are a perfect introduction to Ford’s work and illustrate the vast range of his imagination . . . If you haven’t discovered Ford, it’s time you did. His carefully crafted novels and short stories are all top-notch. Grade: A.” — Rocky Mountain News

Cover illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love.

Jeffrey Ford was born on Long Island in New York State in 1955 and grew up in the town of West Islip. He studied fiction writing with John Gardner at S.U.N.Y Binghamton. He’s been a college English teacher of writing and literature for thirty years. He is the author of eight novels including The Girl in the Glass and four short story collections. He has received multiple World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson awards as well as the Nebula and Edgar awards among others. He lives with his wife Lynn in a century old farm house in a land of slow clouds and endless fields.