(Small Beer Press, $24.00, 273 pages; hardcover, published in July 2005.)
When Small Beer Press released Kelly Link's debut collection, Stranger Things Happen, in 2001, it heralded the arrival of a major new voice in both fantasy and short fiction. Link herself is co-owner of Small Beer Press, which specializes in artfully crafted books of beautifully strange fiction, yet the usual stigma associated with self-publishing need not apply here. Her fiction is widely anthologized, and her second Small Beer Press collection, Magic for Beginners, has already been picked up by Harcourt Brace for a later paperback release.
Magic for Beginners includes a few originals in addition to collecting stories that have appeared in prestigious venues such as Conjunctions and McSweeney's.
These stories shimmer like impressionist paintings. Link never dwells on superfluous details but lets readers' imaginations fill out the settings and scenarios she suggests rather than describes. She creates worlds slightly askew from our own, in which childhood dreams are truer than the reality constructed by adults, in which tall tales intrude upon everyday life, in which bizarre creatures lurk, in which a peculiar wit permeates the weirdest horrors.
Link's protagonists are usually young women, teenage girls, or little girls. There's fragile tenderness in her work, but no cheap sentimentality. Link's gaze is never squeamish nor prudish. The violence hurts. The sex is candid.
The stories begin with outlandish and playful premises -- a handbag that's also a gateway to faery realms; a convenience store where zombies hang out; a lawn haunted by rabbits -- and then become stranger still, never succumbing to cliché and predictability.
In this second collection Link's voice is bolder and more confident. She's always playful both in her use of language and in her storytelling. Even when her stories are gruesome and disturbing, they exude joy. Reading Kelly Link is a joyful experience.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 19 November 2005, 13 May 2006