A Celebration of Jeffrey Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy: The Beyond
This week we've been talking to Jeffrey Ford, one of America's best fiction writers, about Golden Gryphon's reissue of his Well-Built City novels--The Physiognomy (1997), Memoranda (1999), and The Beyond (2001). Compared to the work of Kafka, among others, these highly surreal and original works launched Ford's career. Each volume comes with a new introduction by the author and features a stunning new cover by award-winning artist John Picacio.
Ford's series concludes with The Beyond, which relates Cley's final adventures. As Golden Gryphon's webpage for the novel summarizes, "Now shunned by the village he saved, and seeing no future in the ruins of the Well-Built City, Cley ventures into The Beyond, a wilderness peopled with demons that feed on humans, where the strange and weird rule, where Paradise is hidden...He encounters wonders and horrors, friendship and hate, mysteries almost beyond comprehension. But will he finally find what he seeks?"
I asked Ford about The Beyond in the conclusion to our interview...
Amazon.com: Did you think of this novel as more or less a kind of mythic quest? And was this where you had always planned for the series to go?
Jeffrey Ford: The trilogy was planned out pretty much from that time in the library when I discovered Lavater’s book. Each of the books is written with a different structure and slightly different style (part of this was due to volition and part was because I just became a better writer as I went on). Each of the books can stand on its own as a novel, but there is more for the reader if they are all read in sequence. They represent three different positions from which to view reality. The Beyond is, in one respect, a quest, but a failed quest on one level and a successful quest on another. It’s the most complex of the three novels in its structure and story.
Amazon.com: Did you know while writing the novel that it would be your last in the world of the Well-Built City?
Jeffrey Ford: Yes, I knew it was the last. I’ve had offers from some publishers to continue this story either in short or longer forms, and I’ve considered it from time to time, but it’s just not in me to do more here. This was the story I wanted to tell and it’s complete. There are other stories for me to write now.
Amazon.com: Looking back on all three books, what are you most proud of about them? And how different a writer are you today?
Jeffrey Ford: What I’m most proud of about them is that I finished them and was able to get them out in the public and share their story with readers. I’m a different writer now. For instance, I doubt I will ever write another trilogy. I was no spring chicken when I wrote these, but I was still young enough to have that kind of hubris and energy to continue a story over three books. I’m a smarter writer and can evoke more with less than I was able to at the time of writing these works. I was more into the baroque then, whereas more recently I’ve tended to be interested in concision. Who knows, though, tomorrow I may start on another trilogy. That’s the beauty of writing fiction--you never know what will bubble up. I am working on a novel now that returns to a sense of the dark fantastic that is closer to The Physiognomy than say a more recent work like The Girl in the Glass, in a style that is more lush than I’ve been employing lately. So I contradict myself, as usual.
For those interested in Ford's other work, his amazing short story collection The Drowned Life will be published by Harper Perennial in November and his novel The Shadow Year appeared earlier this year from William Morrow.