The Drowned Life
  • Alternative view 1 of The Drowned Life
  • Alternative view 2 of The Drowned Life

The Drowned Life

4.0 3
by Jeffrey Ford

View All Available Formats & Editions

There is a town that brews a strange intoxicant from a rare fruit called the deathberry—and once a year a handful of citizens are selected to drink it. . . .

There is a life lived beneath the water—among rotted buildings and bloated corpses—by those so overburdened by the world's demands that they simply give up and go under. . . .

In this


There is a town that brews a strange intoxicant from a rare fruit called the deathberry—and once a year a handful of citizens are selected to drink it. . . .

There is a life lived beneath the water—among rotted buildings and bloated corpses—by those so overburdened by the world's demands that they simply give up and go under. . . .

In this mesmerizing blend of the familiar and the fantastic, multiple award-winning New York Times notable author Jeffrey Ford creates true wonders and infuses the mundane with magic. In tales marked by his distinctive, dark imagery and fluid, exhilarating prose, he conjures up an annual gale that transforms the real into the impossible, invents a strange scribble that secretly unites a significant portion of society, and spins the myriad dreams of a restless astronaut and his alien lover. Bizarre, beautiful, unsettling, and sublime, The Drowned Life showcases the exceptional talents of one of contemporary fiction's most original artists.

Editorial Reviews

Rocky Mountain News
“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.”
Publishers Weekly

Following close upon the release of The Shadow Year, Edgar-winner Ford's third collection leads readers down dark and subtle passageways onto some very strange turf. In the title story, people drown and end up in a submerged city whose inhabitants are scornful of anyone wanting to return to the surface; a man named Hatch is compelled to escape Drowned Town in order to uphold a promise to his son. Similar metaphors of submersion are applied to drastically different effect in "The Manticore Spell," "The Dismantled Invention of Fate" and "In the House of Four Seasons." In "Night Whiskey," the book's strangest tale, two men must roust slumbering drunks from trees after an annual festival; in addition to sending celebrants literally up a tree, the special once-a-year bash also features visitations with dead relatives, and what begins as near-slapstick ends with disturbing revelations and a loss of innocence. Throughout these 16 stories, Ford covers much stylistic terrain, weaving between science fiction, realistic stories with fantastic elements and even some nearly straight-up (and successful) comedy. Readers of all stripes should be able to find something here to love. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Sometimes we read something and immediately think of a friend who would really like it. This collection of short stories from the author of The Shadow Year contains some of the most unusual and provocative settings and plots this reviewer has ever encountered, which will make it perfect for book talking to patrons. The first story features a man who, filled with the pressures of daily life, finds himself at the bottom of the sea in a place called Drowned Town, on the run from sharks called Financial Ruin. In "The Night Whiskey," local citizens win a chance to drink a magical berry liquor that enables them to experience the dream of a lifetime, only this year the results are quite shocking. In "The Scribble Mind," an art student stumbles onto an elaborate conspiracy where a select few can remember something that gives them exclusive membership into a special society. Sometimes shocking, sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes humorous, this collection will please fans of Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor. Recommended for libraries where short story collections are popular.-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ

Kirkus Reviews
Sixteen stories ranging from the wildly surreal to the commonplace and poignant, from Ford (The Girl in the Glass, 2005, etc.). In "The Drowned Life," the opening story, a financially beset husband and father finally chooses to go under-literally. His life having ended "not with a bang but a bubble," he finds himself the newest citizen of a weird subterranean world in which grocery stores and houses float by, and the indigenous population, in various stages of decomposition, goes about its waterlogged business as if in some kind of sunken village of the damned. "In the House of Four Seasons" is like a trip through Alice's looking glass-complete with bizarre confrontations and logic turned on its head-conducted by a seemingly sensible guide who is, in fact, mad as a hatter. Ford shifts the mood drastically for "Present from the Past," a sharply observed, fully empathic story of a family coping with the pain, anger and long-smoldering resentments that can attend a death watch. "The Scribble Mind" will leave readers puzzled and perhaps a bit unnerved by its story about a strange woman with a strange obsession. Like Ford's imagination, his sense of humor never sleeps; it's also on the strange side. In "The Dreaming Wind," for example, a parrot swaps heads with a child's doll: "The bird still spoke but prefaced every screeching utterance with a breathy, mechanical rendition of the word 'Mama.' "Impressive eclecticism, enhanced by the pleasures of quietly quirky prose.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Drowned Life

Chapter One

It came trickling in over the transom at first, but Hatch's bailing technique had grown rusty. The skies were dark with daily news of a pointless war and genocide in Africa, poverty, AIDS, desperate millions in migration. The hot air of the commander in chief met the stone-cold bullshit of Congress and spawned water spouts, towering gyres of deadly ineptitude. A steady rain of increasing gas prices, grocery prices, medical costs, drove down hard like a fall of needles. At times the mist was so thick it baffled the mind. Somewhere in a back room, Liberty, Goddess of the Sea, was tied up and blindfolded—wires snaking out from under her toga and hooked to a car battery. You could smell her burning, an acid stink that rode the fierce winds, turning the surface of the water brown.

Closer by, three sharks circled in the swells, their fins visible above chocolate waves. Each one of those slippery machines of Eden stood for a catastrophe in the secret symbolic nature of this story. One was Financial Ruin, I can tell you that—a stainless-steel beauty whose sharp maw made Hatch's knees literally tremble like in a cartoon. In between the bouts of bailing, he walked a tightrope. At one end of his balancing pole was the weight of financial ruin: a mortgage like a Hydra, whose head grew back each month, for a house too tall and too shallow; taxes out the ass; failing appliances; car payments. At the other end was his job at an HMO, denying payment to -people with legitimate claims. Each conversation with each claimant was harrowing for him, but he was in no position to quit. What else would he do? Each poor sapdenied howled with indignation and unalloyed pain at the injustice of it all. Hatch's practiced facade, his dry "Sorry," hid indigestion, headaches, sweats, and his constant, subconscious reiteration of Darwin's law of survival as if it were some golden rule.

Beyond that, the dog had a chronic ear infection, his younger son, Ned, had recently been picked up by the police for smoking pot and the older one, Will, who had a severe case of athlete's foot, rear-ended a car on Route 70. "Just a tap. Not a scratch," he'd claimed, and then the woman called with her dizzying estimate. Hatch's wife, Rose, who worked twelve hours a day, treating the -people at a hospital whose claims he would eventually turn down, demanded a vacation with tears in her eyes. "Just a week, somewhere warm," she said. He shook his head and laughed as if she were kidding. It was rough seas between his ears and rougher still in his heart. Each time he laughed, it was in lieu of puking.

"Storm warning" was a phrase that made surprise visits to his consciousness while he sat in front of a blank computer screen at work, or hid in the garage at home late at night, smoking one of the Captain Blacks he'd supposedly quit, or stared listlessly at Celebrity Fit Club on the television. It became increasingly difficult for him to remember births, first steps, intimate hours with Rose, family jokes, vacations in packed cars, holidays with extended family. One day Hatch did less bailing. "Fuck that bailing," he thought. The next day he did even less.

As if he'd just awakened to it, he was suddenly standing in water up to his shins and the rain was beating down on a strong southwester. The boat was bobbing like the bottom lip of a crone on Thorazine as he struggled to keep his footing. In his hands was a small plastic garbage can, the same one he'd used to bail his clam boat when at eighteen he had worked the Great South Bay. The problem was Hatch wasn't eighteen anymore, and though now he was spurred to bail again with everything he had, he didn't have much. His heart hadn't worked so hard since his twenty-fifth anniversary, when Rose made him climb a mountain in Montana. Even though the view at the top was gorgeous—a basin lake and a breeze out of heaven—his T-shirt jumped with each beat. The boat was going down. He chucked the garbage can out into the sea and Financial Ruin and its partners tore into it. Reaching for his shirt pocket, he took out his smokes and lit one.

The cold brown water was just creeping up around Hatch's balls as he took his first puff. He noticed the dark silhouette of Captree Bridge in the distance. "Back on the bay," he said, amazed to be sinking into the waters of his youth, and then, like a struck wooden match, the entire story of his life flared and died behind his eyes.

Going under was easy. No struggle, but a change in temperature. Just beneath the dark surface, the water got wonderfully clear. All the stale air came out of him at once—a satisfying burp followed by a large translucent globe that stretched his jaw with its birth. He reached for its spinning brightness but sank too fast to grab it. His feet were still lightly touching the deck as the boat fell slowly beneath him. He looked up and saw the sharks still chewing plastic. "This is it," thought Hatch, "not with a bang but a bubble." He herded all of his regrets into the basement of his brain, an indoor oak forest with intermittent dim lightbulbs and dirt floor. The trees were columns that held the ceiling and amid and among them skittered pale, disfigured doppelgängers of his friends and family. As he stood at the top of the steps and shut the door on them, he felt a subtle tearing in his solar plexus. The boat touched down on the sandy bottom and his sneakers came to rest on the deck. Without thinking, he gave a little jump and sailed in a lazy arc, landing ten feet away, with a puff of sand, next to a toppled marble column.

The Drowned Life. Copyright © by Jeffrey Ford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Ford is the author of three previous story collections and eight previous novels, including the Edgar® Award-winning The Girl in the Glass and the Shirley Jackson Award-winning The Shadow Year. A former professor of writing and early American literature, Ford now writes full-time in Ohio, where he lives with his wife.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Drowned Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And i get dis?
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent sixteen story collection that runs the gamut from sci fi to surreal to realism while following the travails of everyday people forced (sometimes by their choices and sin some instances by those of others) down dark paths. All are well written with several sensationally poignant and haunting as drowning (not necessarily in water) serves as a metaphor of life. The opening tale The Drowned Life (same as book title) sets the quality bar of excellence as it seems so allegorically apropos with people unable to financially float when sharks chase them until they start drowning but end up in an underwater city that no one escapes. Another example of a life drowning is ¿Night Whiskey¿; following an annual gala, two men wake up peers sleeping off a magical brew in trees. Others are just as weird yet each provides a symbolic look at people drowning in spite of seemingly doing everything allegedly right.

Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Points for the cover and the first page of the first story. Not for me, sorry