Posted in Short Stories

Jeffrey Ford: The Drowned Life

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 3

K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥ K♥

Hatch floated down the long empty avenues of Drowned Town, a shabby but quiet city in a lime green sea. Every so often, he’d pass one of the citizens, bloated and blue in various stages of decomposition, and say, “Hi.”

One might call Jeffrey Ford’s short story “The Drowned Life” surreal. At the same time, the term surreal in some way implies that there is no “real” meaning behind a story or behind a plot. This is not the case with “The Drowned Life”. In fact, Ford tells us early on that a literal shark represents “Financial Ruin” and then proceeds to call the shark Financial Ruin for the rest of the story.

oxford short stories

As the protagonist, Hatch, attempts to “keep his head above water” both literally and figuratively (or maybe neither, I don’t know?), he finally gives up bailing and lets himself drown – as Financial Ruin swims around him.

While Hatch explores Drowned Town, he worries about his wife and sons and attempts to get back to dry land. Drowned Town is filled with both the macabre and the hilarious – which gives Ford kudos at least by my standards. It’s great when an author can make something genuinely scary and genuinely funny.

I think what could technically be considered surreal are the bizarre images of fish-like creatures and half-decayed human beings – both of which interact with Hatch though not necessarily in Hatch’s best interest.

I have a hard time thinking this story will be a favorite by the end of the year, but it’s my favorite one of the three I’ve read so far.

This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the King of Hearts for Week 3 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


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