Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s engaging and funny second collection — call it kitchen-sink magical realism — riffs on haunted convenience stores, husbands and wives, rabbits, zombies, weekly apocalyptic poker parties, witches, superheroes, marriage, and cannons — and includes several new stories. Link is an original voice: no one else writes quite like this.
Description from the author's website 

I have been reading this collection of short stories for a while,  not because I have not been enjoying it but because I have. The stories work best to my mind if you stop between them to allow each one to sink into your mind and your subconscious. Believe me these are stories that have a habit of coming back. 

Kelly Link has a way of writing which is at times witty: the zombies were like Canadians, in that they looked enough like real people at first, to fool you and at times very dark, and sometimes both simultaneously.  This can be very disconcerting. The description above talks of "kitchen-sink magical realism".  Link's voice is often quite conversational and even chatty,  so when the fantasy/horror elements appear they shock all the more.

Stylistically the stories are deceptively simple.  You think you are reading one story and find that there are actually several stories.  In the title story you think you are reading about a group of teenagers who are obsessed with a strange TV series, but then you begin to realize that the teenagers could themselves be in a TV show and even that the two shows are linked.  At one level the book is about a teenage boy coping with his growing feelings about girls: Jeremy Mars knows a lot about the planet Mars, although he's never been there. He knows some girls, and yet he doesn't know much about them. He wishes there were books about girls, the way there are books about Mars, that you could observe the orbits and brightness of girls through telescopes without appearing to be perverted.  These feelings slide into his obsession with the weird TV series and the reader begins to understand that the surreal world of the TV series is not simply fantastical but is reflecting the central character.  

The story Stone Animals is a very strong horror story, which starts with a family buying a house. The family is a recognizable one - the wife is pregnant and is obsessively nest-building, the husband is torn between a demanding boss and the demands of his family. We discover in the first paragraph that the house is said to be haunted. This haunting is expressed in the family members feeling such unease about their possessions that they can't bear to have them in the house and this spills into the family relationships. Is the haunting real or has the house move placed a strain on the family.  Later in the story you discover that the wife had previously invented an affair in order to give her husband a problem to solve, so clearly all is not right with their relationship. I found myself more disturbed by this narrative than many more "horrifying" stories.

Other stories - such as  The Faery Handbag and Catskin - were closer to fairytalesBoth of which were great, but they are probably not magic realism. And there are two zombie stories, The Hortlak and Some Zombie Contingency Plan, which probably are. As is the case in most collections of stories there were some I liked less than others.  The Lull and The Great Divorce dragged for me.  

You can get four of the nine stories from the collection free online:
Go on, try a few.

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