The skeleton was sweeping his arm out to indicate his infernal crop. “I got a thousand acres of torment here,” he said, speaking in the voice of the Jimmy Emmett remembered from life. Words came forth from the empty skull in a weak echo. “For every acre’s worth I bring to Satan, he reduces my own anguish a half a dust mote’s worth.”
jeffrey ford is one of those (many) authors whose books i keep buying because they sound amazing and then eventually i realize i have a huge stack of books by an author and i’ve never actually read any of them. oops. i’ve read some short stories by him – another free tor short: A Terror, as well as some stories in scattered anthologies, but i still haven’t plowed into that stack of novels. and here’s where i make that same promise i always make when i realize that this situation has occurred again – that i will definitely definitely get into those books i’ve owned for years. but we all know how these situations end, and while i really hope it will be different this time, i’m pretty much the worst at reading every book there is. but for now, i can at least drop a few lines about this story, which is free and short(ish), and maybe one of you will go and read it and then do what i cannot seem to – read a full-length novel by him. it doesn’t matter which one – they all sound great. go on, go be better than me.
it’s not so much the plot of the story that impressed me here, but the quality of ford’s writing. there’s nothing flowery or showy about it, but it demonstrates a real facility for storytelling, which is one of those things you either have or you don’t. you can be a successful writer without this gift; you can even be a good writer without it, but when a reader like me encounters a true natural storyteller, it’s like little wings opening up in my heart. it’s what you find in Donald Harington, Jonathan Carroll, early Stephen King – just an ease at bringing characters to life, controlling the pacing, deploying asides and backstories so they enhance rather than gum up the central narrative, and the reader is carried along with the story, engaged and entranced, and quite frankly – delighted.
it’s a pretty straightforward ghost story, with some details that were new to me, but it has all the hallmarks of a classic haunting story – violent death, unfinished business, revenge from beyond the grave. there’s a fairly textbooky twist, but what really made it stand out for me was the relationship between the main character, fourteen-year-old emmett wallace, and his family, and how it changes over the course of the story in a quiet, but firm and irrevocable way.
it’s really lovely haunting stuff and i love his details and the pure density of his prose. a very strong tor short.
now where’s that stack??
read it for yourself here: