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A Natural History of Hell

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  501 ratings  ·  90 reviews
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.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 19th 2016 by Small Beer Press (first published July 12th 2016)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Peter Tillman
A must-read for Jeffrey Ford fans. So far, the standouts for me have been "A Natural History of Autumn" and "Word Doll", which are both online. I hated the two religious stories.

Here is Paul di Filippo's fine professional review. He likes it a lot. This is the review to read first:

My story notes:
"The Blameless" (2016). Exorcisms for teens! A new suburban rage. Unsold, likely a NYer reject, but pretty good. The Reverend Kan, the High Holy Blameless is a hoo
Catherine Grant
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I received an ARC copy in return for an honest review.

A NATURAL HISTORY OF HELL is a 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 p
Ben Loory
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
This collection of short stories, united by the theme of wickedness and with varying degrees of the supernatural, is, like most collections, an uneven thing. Unfortunately, while many collections have a number of adequate stories and some gems, this one is heavily weighted towards the shoddy end of mediocre. There are a few pretty entertaining stories, several “meh,” and a couple that are really bad.

The copy I received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer's program is marked as “Advance Unco
Riju Ganguly
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
In a literary world compartmentalised into genres and sub-genres, how would you categorise a book where supernatural is merely a cloak for exploration of human evil, its consequences, and the payback?
Perhaps fantasy would be the most overarching term for such literature.
So, is the book under discussion a fantasy? I don't know. But one thing I can say for sure.
It's fantastic.
Regrettably devoid of a preface which should have graced this book, we have the following stories therein:
1. The Blameless:
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-horror
What a fantastic title, am I right folks? A Natural History of Hell is the first I've read of many works by authors I found out about at 2016's Readercon. Almost immediately, from the first story, I have found that this collection is what I'm looking for from horror, and more characteristics that I didn't even know I wanted in a story! It is at times humorous (subtle and obvious) but can also incite feelings of dread and at times even awe and wonderment.

A natural history is defined, according to
I have two problems with this collection of stories by Jeffrey Ford. The first is that I simply don't like horror stories as a genre. I have never understood the appeal of horror literature; clearly a great many people disagree. Real life is frightening enough (particularly as I write this in 2020 and coronavirus stalks through the world, slaying tens of thousands). I was aware that some of these tales were intended to be horrifying, though, so I can hardly blame Jeffrey Ford for my reading them ...more
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful trip into a wild and weird collection of short stories. Mr. Ford grabs on to some of the weirdest and most varied ideas you could imagine and weaves wonderful snapshots into the multiverse.

If you are a fan of the things I review, go read this. You will not be disappointed.

Aug 12, 2016 rated it liked it
A couple moments of boredom, but also some really moving, beautiful moments that outweigh the former.

If you don't want to read the whole collection, then read Word Dolls, The Thyme Fiend, and The Prelate's Commission.
Lord Humungus
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding collection of short stories. Lovely, poetic combinations of fantasy, horror and the weird, written with the assured style and deft hand of a storytelling master. My favorite piece, "A Natural History of Autumn", read like the screenplay for an amazing Asian cinema horror movie, absolutely superb.

Highly recommended.
Laura Jean
Best book I've read so far this year. I loved the social commentary. I loved the creepy unease I felt even after the stories I liked less. Just phenomenal.
Nicholas Kaufmann
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When it comes to short fiction, I place Jeffrey Ford up there with Kelly Link and Ray Bradbury. He's a master of the form, and unsurprisingly, A NATURAL HISTORY OF HELL does not contain a single dud. Each story features exquisitely crafted prose, an artist's eye for detail, and impeccable characterization, but two stories in particular really blew me away. "Mount Chary Galore," which displays an astonishing level of imagination and is so chock full of story that I can't believe it's only twenty ...more
Wren Clinefelter
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Weird as shit but I like it that way
Alice Phillips
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: horror
A solid collection of strange and supernatural stories. My favorites were "Word Doll," "A Terror," and "The Thyme Fiend."
Jessie (Zombie_likes_cake)
Once I realized I kept on adding Jeffrey Ford books to my to read list (I usually only list one book by an author there, the one I intend to pick up next) I knew I had to get cracking and break into his works rather sooner than later.
And I sure glad I finally did, this collection seemed to be a great introduction, too. I love his style and the inventiveness. As the title suggests there are some biblical themes in here, at least sort of, the devil, evil angels and death make appearances. There i
Jack Haringa
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Reading a collection by Jeffrey Ford is like taking a master class in short fiction, and A Natural History of Hell is the author's most masterful yet. Not only do the stories range widely across popular genres, from noir to horror to high fantasy, but each exhibits expert understanding and control of the elements that breathe life into these forms. The reader becomes invested in the characters, absorbed in their internal and external mysteries, enveloped by their locales, and enthralled with the ...more
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This collection really pulls myth and fairy take characters out of their stories and puts them into this world. The stories vary so much from fantasy to satire to SF to magic realism. I think what does set this apart from many retellings (which this is not, but uses the same themes) is that it keep the violence of the original stories. This was wonderful.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016
My full review here (scroll down on page, past 1st review):

Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My first exposure to Jeffrey Ford was in the VanderMeers' enormous Weird collection. Two of his stories are included and both of them are as fun and creative as they are singularly bizarre and intimidatingly crafted. I sort of feared he was one of those authors who was so steeped in experimental weird that he only occasion deigned to produce fiction that was also accessibly enjoyable. Natural History of Hell proves I had mischaracterized his work in all but his skill. None of these stories is qu ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Super imaginative and eerie. Ever since reading John Connolly's short story collection Night Music, I think I've fallen for this genre. My favorites in this book are "A Natural History of Autumn" and "A Terror"

here are my summaries of the short stories:
THE BLAMELESS is an amusing story about a new, unnatural trend
WORD DOLL is a strange flashback of when something beneficial becomes harmful
MOUNT CHARY GALORE is full of colorful characters
Deb Aronson
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the second collection of short stories I've read this year. Very unusual for me. This collection was given to me by my son, who read it in his creative writing program. I mostly had to read these stories during the day because they were so unsettling if I read them at bed time I couldn't sleep well. Ford's work mostly has an otherworldly element, with devils and ghosts and spirits etc. Not all the spirits are evil necessarily, but they are all creepy. Still, the story that has stuck with ...more
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jeffrey Ford is a mastermind, honestly. In this book his ideas, all while being terrifying, sad, and intriguing are so good. A natural history of Hell is a series of 13 short stories.

When I read short stories I either find them too slow and missing crucial bits, or really well done where the whole story is hinted at through the characters and the settings.

The first story is a really interesting concept, teenagers whose parents can get a exorsist in to cleanse them. If you got invited to your n
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
On the whole, this was a solid collection. The bulk of the stories deal in some regards with the supernatural. The two that didn't stick out. Blood Drive is more of a social satire and Rocketship to Hell is straight up sci-fi, and very reminiscent of Golden Age stuff. My favorites were those that tied into an older tradition, or seemed to. The Thyme Fiend, Fairy Enterprise, Word Doll, and Prelate's Commission were ones that stuck with me. I didn't really think there were any that I found complet ...more
Eric Guignard
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are few authors of the fantastic who can write as exceptionally well and imaginatively as Jeffrey Ford. This—his latest collection—won both the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, and was a finalist for other awards. This collection contains thirteen stories (twelve reprints, one original), each brilliant in its own way, whether horror, magic, adventure, or noir, but all smart and invigorating.
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The pieces in this collection have the feel of stories told over a campfire, or at a nearly-deserted bar late at night, or passed on from a friend of a friend. There’s something urban legend-like in the magical realism, but each narrator has such a unique voice that I felt it absolutely had to be that character telling that particular tale. Would recommend to any lovers of horror and weird fiction.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-2018
5.0 Stars
Loved The Angel Seems, Blood Drive, and Rocket Ship to Hell. I even enjoy some of the lesser works ("A Terror" and "Word Doll" being my least favorite) just from the sheer perfection of Ford's writing.
I'm not saying I fully understand some (or, to be honest, most) of the stories or what I imagine is a ton of references to christian mythology but the story's all feel distinct and unique from everything I've read.
A masterpiece of a collection.
John Benschoter
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Though I've seen his name in a number of anthologies, I'd never read anything by Jeffrey Ford before. I'm happy I remedied that. His stories play with horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, but would better be described as social commentary, even satire. Probably the most pointed satire is the story that opens this anthology, The Blameless, in which a couple is invited to their neighbors' daughter's exorcism. This story mocks social standing, TV religion, teen angst, parents. Blood Drive is sharp satire o ...more
Ariel Everitt
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Mmmm, creepy fables dripping with dream-logic. My favorite!

A couple attends the teenage exorcism of the season, an event as momentous and mundane as a graduation party. An 'angel' steals villagers, only to return them mute and sporting bad-ass body modifications like elk horns or effing universes set in their foreheads. An anthropologist describes the rich history of 'word dolls,' imaginary friends conjured by a masked enigma, for the entertainment of children entering work in the fields... unti
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, horror
An exception and surprising collection of short stories that are both fantastic and creepy. I do not normally care for horror a great deal, and these stories do stop short of truly horrific - instead building an amazing tension and unsettling atmosphere, through truly interesting stories, often with beautifully crafted twist endings.

Highly recommended to any fan of the darkly fantastic.
Daniel Powell
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Yet another quality collection from the one of the most consistently excellent writers working today. The diversity in this collection is a hallmark of Ford's work--he can write fantasy, science fiction, and horror equally well and it's all on display here. No writer outside of maybe Joe Lansdale can bring humor and dread together as effectively as can Ford.

Most highly recommended...
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Jeffrey Ford is an American writer in the Fantastic genre tradition, although his works have spanned genres including Fantasy, Science Fiction and Mystery. His work is characterized by a sweeping imaginative power, humor, literary allusion, and a fascination with tales told within tales. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he studied with the novelist John Gar ...more

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