Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Sunday Book: Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link

In the interest of punctuality/ever getting any book posts up at all I have decided that I'm going to start co-opting existing reviews. This is obviously pretty lazy but if I don't I'll never get round to writing the 3,000 word ode to how much I enjoyed Magic for Beginners and that would be pretty sad.

"I don't know about you, but I'm kind of fed up with realism. After all, there's enough reality already; why make more of it? Why not leave realism for the memoirs of drug addicts, the histories of salt, the biographies of porn stars? Why must we continue to read about the travails of divorced people or mildly depressed Canadians when we could be contemplating the shopping habits of zombies, or the difficulties that ensue when living and dead people marry each other? We should be demanding more stories about faery handbags and pyjamas inscribed with the diaries of strange women. We should not rest until someone writes about a television show that features the Free People's World-Tree Library, with its elaborate waterfalls and Forbidden Books and Pirate-Magicians. We should be pining for a house haunted by rabbits. [...]

This strangeness emanates not only from the subjects of the stories, but from the sentences. The first time I read Magic for Beginners I marvelled at the seamless integration of reality (a world that seemed familiar, characters I felt I knew) and otherness (a dream-world with rules I wasn't acquainted with but which I accepted as they came along). With each subsequent reading I became more enamoured of the language, the voice, the glorious sentences themselves: "Batu had spent a lot of time reorganising the candy aisle according to chewiness and meltiness." "She found the gas mask in a box of wineglasses, and also six recent issues of the New Yorker, which she might still get a chance to read someday. She put the gas mask under the sink and the New Yorkers in the sink. Why not? It was her sink. She could put anything she wanted into it. She took the magazines out again and put them into the refrigerator, just for fun." [...]

Link's stories intertwine to form a world more real than anything you could touch, taste or see; this world exists in the intimate spaces of your mind, real enough to visit, strange and familiar as a dream. This is what certain readers live for: fiction that makes the world instead of merely mimicking it. If you are one of these readers, you know what you have to do next."

Audrey Niffenegger at the Guardian

"Magic for Beginners shows even more clearly than her entrancing debut collection, Stranger Things Happen, how Link treads the near-invisible line between literary hit and writer’s writer. Her prose is fresh and unaffected, yet honed to the essential. So far, she’s produced only stories (though lately some have grown to novella length), works that delicately knit together crowd-pleasing genre and folk-tale elements with challenging experimentation. (This is essentially what the metafictionists of the 1970s professed to do; however, when Link does it, it works.) And always, the connective tissue is a funny, rueful view of human relations that for all the weird stuff going on, remains rooted in reality."

- Laura Miller at Salon

Goodness, this collection was delightful. Generally speaking, I do not understand the appeal of short stories - they have not suited the way I like to read and I have found them unsatisfying. If a story is good I want a whole book of it and I think that often authors and editors allow too much leeway for tedium in short stories. Just because a story is short that is no excuse for it to be dull but I think that is tolerated more than it should be... Perhaps it is a genre thing - there are a lot of kitchen sink short stories and they rarely make my heart skip a beat, irrelevant of length. 

Kelly Link couldn't be any less kitchen sink though and it is bliss. I'm not sure if her work could be categorised as magical realism or realistic fantasy or if it falls somewhere into the foggy centre of that Venn diagram but it is a pleasure to read. Surreal and strange and funny and familiar and ringing with truth despite the often profound weirdness, it had me grinning on the bus and eager to immerse myself in each of the worlds she offered. Magic for Beginners runs the gamut of short stories to novellas and although almost every story left me hungry for more few left me hanging or unsatisfied. The collection just seemed to give Link space to stretch and explore and play. Maybe it is because life has felt rather dislocated of late and my reading habits are currently suited to the form but, man, this was a pleasure.

Excellent stuff. Also, Link's interview with Gigantic about The Vampire Diaries is excellent.

Chuck x 


  1. I love love love Kelly Link and her short stories! I knew we were friends for a reason

  2. When I have some free time from school I will definitely check it out!

  3. This sounds exactly like my sort of book! I will definitely be checknig my library for it.