Big Dark Hole

Jeffrey Ford  - published July 2021

trade paper · 320 pages · $17 · 9781618731845 | ebook · 9781618731852

A new collection from the award winning author of A Natural History of Hell.

World Fantasy Award finalist

A Jeffrey Ford story may start out in the innocuous and routine world of college teaching or evenings on a porch with your wife. But inevitably the weird comes crashing in. Maybe it’s an unexpected light in a dark and uninhabited house, maybe it’s a drainage tunnel that some poor kid is suddenly compelled to explore. Maybe there’s a monkey in the woods or an angel that you’ll need to fight if you want to gain tenure. Big Dark Hole is about those big, dark holes that we find ourselves once in a while and maybe, too, the big dark holes that exist inside of us.

“Nobody else can quite make the short story form frolic the way Ford can. Equally at home exploring a slightly eerie Midwest or the out-and-out odd, his writing is often deeply weird, never arbitrary, and always profoundly satisfying. Whether he’s writing about a hive mind of fleas, the local monster, bookshelf fairies, an odd mountain hotel, or a professor named Jeff who has to wrestle an angel if he’s to keep his job, Big Dark Hole offers Ford at his outlandish best.”
— Brian Evenson, Song for the Unraveling of the World

Read: an excerpt of “Five-Pointed Spell” on Lithub


“While it might be gentler and more personal, it’s still weird, beautiful, gothic, and strange, all of it definitively Jeffrey Ford.” — Nightfire, The Best Horror Short Story Collections and Anthologies of 2021

“Each and every story in Big Dark Hole stands distinct in my memory. . . . Ford employs the tools of fantastic fiction to explore the strangeness of twenty-first-century American life.” — Matthew Keeley,

Big Dark Hole is quintessential Jeffrey Ford, everything avid readers love about him in a concentrated burst set to knock them off their seats. It’s grounded and accessible, yet hallucinatory and surreal. It’s heartfelt and melancholy, but also hilarious and terrifying. It’s all these things in one two hundred page package, and contains some of Ford’s best work to date. Those into weirder, more surreal works of horror should find this essential reading, and for those who aren’t, well, maybe a little weirdness might do you some good. Either way, do yourself a favor and seek this one out. ”
— Sam Reader, Nightfire

“One can encounter a myriad of strange and otherworldly things in a big dark hole; sometimes, we discover these holes in the most unexpected places. This new short story collection explores the extraordinary that lurks just behind everyday life. Some of its subjects are truly otherworldly, like tiny fairies who risk their lives in a daring rescue (‘The Bookcase Expedition’), an angel whom one must wrestle to secure a professorship (‘The Match’), or spirits trapped in a never-ending circle of violence who suck others in with them (‘The Jeweled Wren’). Others are about weird events or beings that mark our lives, like a monkey in the woods (‘Monkey in the Woods’), or a drainage system that a young boy is compelled to explore (‘Big Dark Hole’).
VERDICT In this collection, Ford (‘The Well-Built City’ trilogy) serves up a variety of staples from the sci-fi/horror buffet: monsters, ghosts, fairies, and even a creepy carnival. Exacting language and well-drawn characters give these stories enough depth to satisfy both sci-fi/fantasy fans and literary fiction readers. Seamlessly blending the surreal with the mundane, Ford gives readers an innocuous ride to places they never knew they wanted to go. Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman and Ursula Le Guin.”Elisabeth Clark, West Florida P.L., Pensacola
Library Journal

“‘Fifteen tales of horror, suspense, and macabre encounters that recount moments when the fantastic finds a crack in our everyday world.
Ford is a prolific writer with a shelf of well-deserved rewards for his novels, but short stories are his sweet spot. Armed with the paranoia of Poe, the psychological terror of Shirley Jackson, and Stephen King’s empathy for everyday people, this latest collection is both subtle and nightmare-inducing, depending on the story. The opener, “The Thousand Eyes,” is a noir-tinged period piece about a mysterious bar, an obsessed painter, and a frightening singer with a “voice of death.” Many of the stories are subdued creature features: “Hibbler’s Minions” is about a flea circus gone awry while “From the Balcony of the Idawolf Arms” features a werewolflike shape-shifter. Finding the minor magic in the everyday world is another thread, but the shifts in style between stories are impressive, from gothic horror in “Inn of the Dreaming Dog” to mythology in “Sisyphus in Elysium” to the long-suppressed grief in the title story. Several of the stories—some of the most experimental and intriguing—find the author narrating his own experiences through fantastical events. In “The Match,” sporadic writing teacher Ford is informed that in order to keep his job, he must fight an angel, as one typically does in academia. Elsewhere, in ‘Monster Eight,’ the author’s fictional counterpart has a run-in with the local monster just doing his “monster thing,” and in ‘The Bookcase Expedition,’ he witnesses a minor war between fairies and spiders. In ‘Five-Pointed Spell,’ the final story and one of the longest, Ford deftly spins a tale that starts with shades of Duel or Mad Max and turns into something that more closely resembles The Blair Witch Project.
A collection of wonderfully creepy gems in which each story goes its own way, to frightening effect.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Employing wide-ranging supernatural conceits—Dust Bowl demons, Amish hexes, figures from Greek legend—these 15 dark tales of evil, loss, and greed from Ford (Out of Body) are sure to send shivers up readers’ spines. Ford’s subtle stories peel away suburbia’s mask of mundanity to reveal sinister undertones—and most of his hapless characters are oblivious to the darkness around them until it’s too late. The title story sees inept cops and apathetic townsfolk abandon their search for an abused boy who crawled into a sewer pipe. In ‘The Thousand Eyes,’ an artist works to capture the grotesque lounge singer he saw perform at a bar, but comes to believe that when he finishes the painting, he will disappear. A bored writer witnesses a tribe of tiny fairies scaling his bookshelves in ‘The Bookcase Expedition.’ In 1933, the manager of a rundown carnival accepts a demon’s help in ‘Hibbler’s Minions.’ And after Sisyphus’s boulder is destroyed in the melancholy yet redemptive ‘Sisyphus in Elysium,’ the tormented and regretful Greek king searches the afterlife for the spirit of his wife. Readers will enjoy these creepy, thoughtful stories—but should be warned not to read them in the dark.Publishers Weekly

“The disquieting title story ‘Big Dark Hole’ describes the (voluntary) disappearance of a young man inside the complex sewer system of a small town, from which he will never resurface. . . . In short, an interesting, entertaining collection apt to satisfy any speculative fiction lover.” — SF Revu

“Ford’s story ‘Word Doll’ from his collection A Brief History of Hell is one of my favorite stories of all time. Ford specializes in having the mundane meet the creepy and inevitably weird, leaving the reader often unsettled and in awe. Having heard Ford read one of the stories included in this collection at a public reading pre-pandemic, I can’t wait to gobble up the rest.”
— Lyndsie Manusos, Book Riot, 10 Speculative Short Story Collections to Enjoy in 2021

Table of Contents

The Thousand Eyes
Hibbler’s Minions
Monster Eight
Inn of the Dreaming Dog
Monkey in the Woods
The Match
From the Balcony of the Idawolf Arms
Sisyphus in Elysium
The Jeweled Wren
Not Without Mercy [Conjunctions]
The Bookcase Expedition
The Winter Wraith
Big Dark Hole
Five-Pointed Spell

Cover illustration: “Vanitas Still Life” by Herman Henstenburgh, Creative Commons Universal, CC0 1.0, the Met Museum.

Praise for A Natural History of Hell:

“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)

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.”

“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

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

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

“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

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 nine novels including The Girl in the Glass and five short story collections, including A Natural History of Hell. 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.