Review: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of Hell is collection of thirteen stories, almost all of them previously published in magazines and anthologies but for the lead story "The Blameless." All thirteen are 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.

A Natural History of Hell delivers thirteen tales that I read through to the last page with increased enthusiasm for the next and a desire to read more of Jeffrey Ford's work in the upcoming year. The stories range from literary, science fiction, fantasy, horror and various mixtures of all four. Genre doesn't seem to matter much to Ford, as long as it serves the story he's trying to tell. His avoidance of tropes and skill in creating fresh, original, fiction should put this collection on everyone's summer reading list for July.

There isn't a single bad story in this whole book, from "The Blameless," about a world where exorcisms are as casual as a sweet sixteen, to "The Angel Seems," about a town under the dubious protection of a malevolent angel, to "The Thyme Fiend," a longer piece about a boy who sees the dead. Ford writes consistent, thought-provoking fiction that occasionally plucks on some very heavy, socially relevant notes.

A real stand-out for me is "Blood Drive" about a re-imagined America where the theocracy encourages High School students to carry guns. The gun becomes a rite of passage, meant to keep society "safe." It is one of the most socially relevant, emotionally gripping stories I've read in a long time. The morality is not heavy handed, the theme artfully handled, but it struck a chord with this reader, as I suspect it has and will for many others.

A Natural History of Hell will be available through Small Beer Press on July 12th.