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Jean Ferry
Translated byEdward Gauvin

The Conductor and Other Tales
Wakefield Press
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-1-939-66301-6
Publication Date: 11-30-2013
143 Pages; $13.95
Date Reviewed: 12-07-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

General Fiction  Horror  Fantasy>

It's easy enough to think that in today's world of weirdness and extremes, we're inventing all sorts of strangeness, and sending it out in limited editions. But strange exists outside of time. Look back sixty-something years and you'll find record of the publication of just 100 copies of 'The Conductor And Other Tales,' Jean Ferry's collection of surreal and irreal — stories? — prose poems? — parables?

Better call them The Indescribable. Ferry, a charter member of the Surrealist movement, spent most of his time writing films for a living. This book captures his only prose, and with the introduction by Edward Gauvin, gives readers an idea of the man behind the stories. With lovely illustrations by Claude Ballaré, it's a beautiful bargain.

The book begins with a 20 page introduction by the translator, Edward Gauvin, "Ferry, in Fragments." It lives up to its name and more, offering the perfect immersion in the mind and work of Jean Ferry, by shards and slivers, letting readers put together this puzzle of a man for themselves. It's well-written and sets up what follows historically, literarily and inter-contextually so that readers know enough going in about what they're going to read — but not so much that it dilutes the power of the work itself.

Ferry's prose pieces are short and often embrace a tart spirit of self-contradiction. He'll et the reader up with an lavish and sometimes graphic description of a place or an event; a trip to Easter Island — and then deny the truth of what he's written. He makes it real for the reader, then suggests it is not. Of course, where the lies begin and end is the question, and the import of the something being "true" as well. Ferry's stories reflect a deep and thoughtful conception of the reading experience, and he uses this to a degree as a plot point.

There are any number of stories that border on what we might today simply call the fantastic; 'Homage to Baedecker,' 'The Society Tiger' and the title tale all have strong plot elements and strong weird elements. Other pieces are more abbreviated, single paragraphs about "The Chinese Astrologer" or "Robinson." (As in "Crusoe"). "On the Frontiers of Plaster (A Few Notes on Sleep)" creatively explores creativity. That's not a bad summary of the book itself.

Claude Ballaré's illustrations are perfect, surreal collages and black-and-white etchings that capture the underscore of humor that suns through the stories. They also help make this a wonderful coffee-table book for Modern Strangers. This is a perfect one-a-day antidote for reality in all its clunky, gory glory. Consider these seeds, prose to be planted in your mind and left to grow very, very wild in the fertile soil of your unconscious life. It's possible the best effects of reading this book may not be accessible to conscious thought.

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