The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Readers who are simply seeking to escape their own reality for a moment or two may get more than they bargained for in The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant: And Other Stories because the line between reality and fantasy is not clearly marked. This is a collection for readers ready to make their own distinctions—squirmy and amorphous as they may be—or readers for whom the reality/fantasy question simply does not arise.

Juxtaposition is the cornerstone, not only from one story to the next but also in the way that author Jeffrey Ford himself keeps popping up and peering out. Some stories are set in Pansolapia or Lindrethool, while others take place in the suburban home next door or on the back roads of New Jersey. There are characters named Maggie or Tom, but there are others called by a sound heard in a dream or something being written down for the very first time. After each piece, Ford includes a short—and amazingly informal and intimate—aside to the reader. He explains one story, for example, as an attempt to write a Twilight Zone episode; says another has been turned down more times than his Visa card; and confesses in a third to ripping off an image from Washington Irving.

Several of the stories focus around writers and teachers. Although Ford is both, there is no solipsism here. The highly autobiographical “The Honeyed Knot” is especially thought-provoking. When a former student commits rape and murder, his writing teacher ruminates on the residual power of all the papers he has read and the authors’ minds behind them. Ford says, in the postscript following, that the process of writing, editing, and seeing that story published helped him to deal with some ghosts only a writing teacher can understand.

The main character in “The Far Oasis” explains that history of mankind is found in the single case. Like a mirror, he says, “One glance and you will be assured that you are not alone in your willful loneliness.” Similarly, stories in this collection are likely to return the reader’s reflection, offering not only light for today but, through Ford’s amazing prism, for a long time to come.