"Ledfeather" represents a breakthrough for author Stephen Graham Jones. It is his most perfect novel to date, exceeding even the brilliant "All the Beautiful Sinners." An overreaction? Perhaps. My strong reaction to this novel may have more to do with my growing understanding and appreciation of SGJ's prose in general rather than the story told in "Ledfeather." Most likely it's a combination of both.
Reading SGJ is challenging. His books do not make for easy reading. And thank you, Stephen, for that. Casual readers who gravitate to the bestseller list would probably not get past the first few pages of "Ledfeather" (or "All The Beautiful Sinners" and particularly not "Bird Is Gone: A Manifesto"). And what a shame, for the rewards to the reader who takes on the challenge are many.
I forgot who said it, though I suspect it was not just one individual, but reading is an active (as opposed to passive) activity. Reading someone like Dan Brown is akin to watching Zoolander (a movie I admit I like more than I should). Reading Stephen is more like watching a film by Bergman or Lynch or Tarkovsky, for example. And these three directors are typically not grouped together. The point I'm trying to make is that, like all great literature and film, the experience affects everyone differently, but it does affect them, not just entertain them. Meanings and linkages that are not readily apparent upon initial reading creep into the reader's minds later -- sometimes days, weeks or months later.
"Ledfeather." The novel opens with a blank page save a single sentence: "I remember you." Perfect for so many reasons, which, again, man not resonate until well after the last page is read. The main character -- Doby Saxon -- is SGJ's most memorable character to date. When he sits in the snow by the side of the road and begins to read Dalimpere's letters, written ages ago, the author begins a narrative-transition device that seems so simple at first. But the transition that SGJ pulls of is so subtle and effective that you almost forget about Doby altogether after the first few letters. Claire. Claire. God how he (Dalimpere) must have hurt. His torment is almost tangible. The slow slide into madness (or is it just uncaringness?) is breathtaking. And then the eventual return to Doby's world and THAT NIGHT. Again, perfect.
I admit I didn't "get" SGJ's earlier novels. But that's a poor way of expressing what I'm trying to say. Sure, "Bird Is Gone: A Manifesto" confused the heck out of me, and "All the Beautiful Sinners" remains the most complex "thriller" I have ever read. But when I finished both of those books, I didn't know exactly how I felt. Certainly not dissatisfied, and not necessarily confused, but... something else that I hadn't felt after concluding any other novel.
As I've stated elsewhere, SGJ's language or voice or whatever you want to call it -- it takes time to appreciate, like a fine wine. At least it did for me. But now I feel I've broken through partially, and the connections are slowly revealing themselves. This makes me want to to revisit those novels again (and "Demon Theory" and "Bleed Into Me: Stories," too). And also to finally take "The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong" off the shelf and give it the reading it deserves (the sole novel of this author that I have yet to tackle).
"Ledfeather" deserves wide recognition, and should be a contender for one of the many literary awards. It's that good. Unfortunately I think the majority of mainstream readers will never know about this magical book. But that is their loss, and should not be yours.
Thank you, Mr. Jones, for sharing these words with us. I don't know how autobiographical any the story was, but I can't help but feel I understand you a tiny bit more now. I also realize this is patently false, as I firmly believe that it is impossible to truly understand anyone except yourself (and even that is exceedingly difficult), particularly through a work of fiction. But still, I like to kid myself that maybe it is possible if the stars are aligned. And maybe that's what "Ledfeather" does for me.