Flustered by the originality of the premise, I don’t even know where to begin reviewing Jeffrey Ford’s 2005 The Cosmology of the Wider World. How does one start introducing a story about a minotaur caught in the doldrums of life—his great work of academia not shaping up as planned, nor his personal life one of contentedness or satisfaction? How does the reviewer begin to explain that, yes, some of the main characters include a tortoise, an owl, an ape, a whale—even a mad flea, and yet the human condition forms the story’s core? I don’t know…
Born to a normal man and woman, Belius nevertheless emerges from the womb half man and half bull. A sharp young lad, he grows up normally on their farm, though, his father goes to pains to let the cows out to feed only at night while Belius is sleeping. But they can’t be kept hidden forever, and one stormy night Belius’ understanding of the world comes crashing down around him. Coming to live in the Wider World in the aftermath, a place where only animals exist, Belius sets himself the task of defining its cosmology in an attempt to reconcile his half-man, half-beast state of being. But long hours of writing, of collecting knowledge and putting it down on paper, does not suffice, and thus Belius sets out to get special assistance putting his soul back in order.
If the above intro is not proof enough, The Cosmology of the Wider World is unlike anything else in Ford’s oeuvre. Belius’ storyline is truly unique. That being said, it granulates elements from a number of his stories. Not quite a linchpin, like say Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, Cosmology nevertheless contains a number of ideas from throughout Ford’s oeuvre. From the metafiction/autobiographical parallels to the plot premise (a writer trying to find purpose in writing and life), the occasional puffs of Mary Jane to demon hunting, Thip the flea’s little kingdom to the sly humor, the act of “Creation” to the book within a book, the story is undeniably Ford’s even as the concept appears fresh and new.
Unsure how to open the review and unsure how to close, I must suffice at saying The Cosmology of the Wider World is perhaps the best work of long(er) fiction Ford has written. Able to take an abstract conception and render it wholly human, wrestling with humanity’s animal nature has never been so original or enjoyable.