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Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford

Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford
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Book Name: Out of Body
Author: Jeffrey Ford
Publisher(s): Tor.com
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Horror / Fantasy
Release Date: May 26, 2020

“There’s so much going on at night, in the shadows, that people who spend most of their waking time in the sunlight have no idea about. Neon and spotlights and bulbs have pushed back the darkness, but night is still largely an undiscovered territory.”

Out of Body (2020) by Jeffrey Ford is a surrealist exploration of the nocturnal psyche. The novella tells the tale of a small-town librarian who, after a near death experience, begins having regular out of body experiences at night, where he wanders the night world and uncovers a ghastly secret preying on the town. Ford is known for his inventive fantasy including the Well-Built City trilogy (1997-2001), as well as his masterful short fiction. Out of Body displays all the elegant style, surrealist imagery and eccentric characters we have come to expect from him, and delivers a story rich with both wonder and fright.

Owen has suffered from sleep paralysis since his youth, but after witnessing a murder at the Busy Bee convenience store on his way to work at the library, he finds himself with the ability to leave his body at night and wonder round an astral plane. While there he meets Melody, an experienced traveller in the night world who is able to guide him through the wonders and dangers of the dream realm he finds himself in. However, in the course of a night’s wanderings he finds himself witnessing the murder of a vampire hunter by a savage monster responsible for all the missing person and unsolved murder cases in the vicinity, and winds up in a race against time to stop him before the vampire can kill again.

Ford manages to take familiar elements such as vampires and Sleeping Beauty, and change and mutate them into something novel and genuinely unsettling. Out of Body draws on these ideas and tropes in the same way that the Well-Built City draws on familiar fantasy ideas and tropes—our expectations are subverted, and through the surreal poetry of his prose Ford brings out a strangeness in the source material we thought we had forgotten.

Much of the power of Out of Body comes from its exploration of night, this realm in which the rules of the everyday, and the social bonds that make us who we are in public, no longer apply. Melody and Owen find themselves drawn to watching people’s everyday night time routines. Though Owen is initially appalled by his own voyeurism, he cannot draw himself away from the allure of seeing people as their private selves, the deep secrets they keep hidden from the rest of the world. Similarly, Owen’s secret night life begins to take precedence for him over his real life, the dream world he inhabits more darkly compelling and seductive than anything his quiet, small town life can offer him.

Crenshaw, the vampire, can be read as an extension of this—the seductive dark and hidden aspect of people’s lives, the secret perversions and violence. The same can be said for the other horrors that haunt the night world, from the zombie-like spirits of less fortunate sleep walkers, detached from their human bodies and attracted to surges of energy from sex, and the nightmarish miasma, a crackling yellow cloud that consumes the unwary and rewrites them out of history.

The night realm is a terrifying place, but it gives Owen’s life a focus it doesn’t have in the real world. Owen is passive in the waking world but is able to take heroic action in the night world. This gives him the courage to overcome the trauma of his near-death experience, and to find a way out of the rut his life has fallen into. Which is all for the best, as ultimately the transfiguring experiences of his out of body adventures are only a fleeting glimpse. Unlike Melody, Owen is only a visitor in this world. This sleeper must eventually wake, but of course when he does the story must leave him behind.

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