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Reading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything Honestly I mean, I m sorry to have to say this to all the people who write short stories and everything, but Stone Animals is the absolute very best short story that has ever been written Oh, wait, except for Lull that is actually the very best short story that has ever been written ever I can t decide, but anyway, the rest of the writing world should just give it up, nothing can top this book.Honestly I can t even do a real review of Magic for Beginners, or any Kelly Link I love it and her too much, and there s nothing I can say that doesn t sound shoddy and trite and silly So bah, I won t try But if you haven t read this book, there is a huge sad gaping hole in your life that you don t even know about. Weird Modern Fairy Tales for Adults by a Writer with a Unique Voice3.5 starsMy introduction to slipstream short story writer Kelly Link was her recently issued Get in Trouble I got off on the wrong foot with that short story collection and did not finish it.I m glad I gave her another chance I liked this collection, Magic for Beginners, a lot better, although it, too had some drawbacks.The author s stories are extremely creative and her voice is totally unique although there were some vague similarities with Karen Russell s short stories She s a very talented writer with a good command of some convoluted material Her characters have great names She s got a wacky sense of humor and a great ear for dialogue, especially that of kids and teens Some of the stories vaguely tie in with others Her favorite themes include the relationships between the living and the dead, animals with human characteristics, witches, zombies, etc.On the down side, her stories often seemed a bit too twee and cutesy Her work could have benefited from a dollop of gravitas here and there, although I suppose then it wouldn t be Kelly Link.Here s the rundown on the stories in this collection I listened to the audio.1 The Faery Handbag I think this might have been the best story in the book Rebecca Lowman vocalized it really well The narrator s grandmother, Zofia, claims to have been born in a country called Baldeziwurlekistan Zofia tells the narrator the story of her fantastic handbag, which contains worlds inside it.2 The Hortlak Wonderful and strange story about two guys who work in an all night store near Ausable Chasm upstate NY near the Canadian border Apparently the Chasm is a sort of borderland conduit between the living and the dead Some of their customers are Canadian zombies who pass through the Chasm to get to the store They are trying to figure out what to sell to zombies They have a female friend who works the overnight shift in an animal shelter and doesn t like the fact that she has to kill the dogs in the shelter Kirby Hayborne read this story expertly.3 The Cannon This was a strange story about a cannon and its relationships with dead and living people The narrator is called Venus Shebby and used to be beautiful Venus was fired from a cannon to a different country where she stayed Her brother was fired from a cannon I think I d need to reread this as some of the details escaped me Arthur Morey and Meera Simhan narrated, and the audio also features Lorna Raver4 Stone Animals is a wonderful tale about a family who move into a house in upstate NY that s overrun with rabbits and other strange creatures, including some stone statues that seem to come alive at night Cassandra Campbell read the story quite well 5 Catskin delineates the death of a witch and the life of her children stolen from humans and the histories of some strange cats, including one called The Witch s Revenge This was like a demented version of a Grimm fairytale Mark Bramhall was the reader.6 Some Zombie Contingency Plans A guy named Soap who just got out of jail for a minor art theft crashes a party at a suburban house He meets Carly and her little brother, Leo I liked this story This one s read by Robbie Daymond7 The Great Divorce Alan Robley living and Lavvie Tyler dead are considering a divorce, as there are problems in a mixed marriage between dead and living people Lorna Raver narrates.8 Magic for Beginners This is a very meta story about a boy, Jeremy Mars, who lives in Plantagenet, Vermont, and his parents and a very popular internet TV show The Library The story is meta because Jeremy is watching the show with his friends and relatives and at the same time without knowing it is a part of the show Jeremy wants to save the show s main character, Fox His mother, a librarian, and his dad, a horror novelist, have a fight and his mom, to get away from her husband, takes Jeremy on a road trip to Vegas The dialogue, especially among the kids, was very realistic But the story was way too long and it dragged The audio narrator was Meera Simhan.9 Lull Good and very bizarre story It s too convoluted to give a summary Ed, who s separated from Susan, calls up a paid by the minute reader at a party and she tells him a bizarre story about himself and Susan, involving the Devil, aliens, a cheerleader, and green Susan beer from which grow multiple Susans Plus, the narrative runs backwards A weird tour de force Danny Campbell is an excellent narrator. Kelly Link writes what I should love quirky, whimsical, creative and fantastical ideas with often dark imagery but somehow all this mix of interesting things never ends up being a story Most entries in Magic in Beginners will draw you in with a unique idea, image or scene this is the case with two of the best stories in the volume, The Faery Handbag and Catskin In the first a young woman loses a handbag which belonged to her elderly grandmother, and tells its story the handbag was a magical one, and contained an equally magical village within itself In Catskin, an orphaned boy the son of a murdered witch dresses up as a cat, and embarks on a quest to avenge her his journey is strange and dreamlike, full of compelling dark imagery.Unfortunately, even these two most successful stories struggle to find a path and resolution the rest just mixes up together vents happen without relation to one another, and stories usually end abruptly, without resolution in the end they become indistinguishable from one another, a mishmash of ideas, images and scenes but not actual stories which we can remember in years to come I m yearning for fantastic, engaging stories, ones which would remind me of the tales I used to read as a young boy and this collection simply doesn t meet these expectations.
Like Grimm s on a hit of acid Or Lemony Snicket if he wasn t so flaccid Just kidding, I love Snicket, i just wanted to make a rhyme Maybe a bit like Miranda July s night terrors would be like after a night on magic mushrooms Murakami inside Raoul Duke s body visiting a Hayao Miyazaki movie say, Spirited Away Or really, I shouldn t bother with comparisons because Kelly Link is like nothing else I ve ever read One day I will no longer be surprised that I like books that everyone hates and hate books that everyone likes Though in this instance, I loved this book like the majority of its readers but my favourite story, Catskin, doesn t seem to be the universal favourite I read it and was like, ho boy, I can t wait to get on goodreads and connect with all the other people who surely thought it was the best out of the collection We can give each other high fives and eat sherbet whilst reminiscing over how fantastic our reading experience was Not, so Oh well I thought Catskin was magnificent But then I am partial to tales about witches and I do have a hairless cat companion and am now convinced there s some other type of creature inside He is literally a cat shaped skin bag with a monkey s character Escaped straight from Link s twisted mind I mean, how could you read this and not curl your toes up in gleeThe dollhouse chimney had broken off and fallen on the ground One of the cats picked it up and carried it away, like a souvenir The cat carried the chimney into the woods and ate it, a mouthful at a time, and passed out of this story and into another one It s no concern of oursThe Stone Animals was also great, made you feel funny in your toes and in your stomach Or like you had toes in your stomach I m mentioning toes a lot but toes are weird and fitting for a review on a book such as this I loved the opening story, The Hortlak Zombies living in a chasm, weirdo pyjamas, a convenience store, a girl with a car full of dog ghosts Going by the keywords, you wouldn t think it d be half as riveting or unsettling as it was Trying to briefly explain any of these stories to someone who hasn t read this book is impossible. Go on, try to, I dare you Better yet, just tell them to check out the story in full on her website here.The only ones that left me a little flat were The Great Divorce and Lull however I suspect that that has a lot to do with the fact that a book that I have been itching to read arrived in the mail before I finished Magic and I just couldn t focus So I ma come back and read those ones again properly another time This book is probably actually a four star for me but I loved Catskin so much that it s going to have to be a five.I imagine Link to be the Helena Bonham Carter of the lit world All mismatched socks and curled toe witch boots, birds nest hair and a magic air In my usual fashion, I d typically say that I want to seduce and marry her, whisk her away to an island made of marshmallow and scattered with bunnies but she weirds me out a little too much Maybe we could live in two separate houses, joined by a bridge sort of how Bonham Carter and Burton live Or she can just stay right where she is and continue weaving her magic into her nightmarish fairytales The only thing I m sure of is that I wouldn t want to be her child at story time before bed. I have a strange split dimensional relationship with magic realism Sometimes we are the best of friends, sometimes it worms under my skin in an annoying way Many books covet its charm but are not brave enough to attempt it, but that can never be said for Kelly Link, who might as well have invented it Sewn it together into a beautiful monster out of abandoned skin shed from horror and fantasy and whatever lurks in the mind.Link s stories can be frustrating They are alchemical clockwork, unexpected treasures made out of completely strange ideas But it s not a simple task to make such a thing understandable, and sometimes it s not A lot of Magic for Beginners has no clear cut linearity The endings are often left up for interpretation, and take place in a world that runs on the logic of lucid dreaming.Boy, but is it a quilt of fascinating tales mismatched, maybe, but in their entirely working smoothly together The Cannon is the tattered point As much as I like experimental writing, I usually skip that one on re reads.The jewels of the collection are the ones that begin with the mundane The Hortlak , easily the crown story, begins with two men working in a convenience store Except it happens to be a convenience store on the threshold of a grand chasm, where the dead crawl out when it s dark Some nights the dead offer things to the two clerks, but they always leave the store with nothing and nobody can figure out what they want The Hortlak is a really haunting piece about the aimlessness people carry in their lives like it s a physical burden, forever confused about what we really want.Some other favourites were Some Zombie Contingency Plans , the unexpectedly Lovecraftian Stone Animals , and Lull , which has echoes of my own stories I first read Magic for Beginners about seven years ago, and it struck a chord in me I hadn t really experienced books with this surreal quality I d been seeking for so long Link is a difficult standard to try to live up to, but I wanted to write something that gives off the same ghostly unease.These stories are never obvious or blatant, they are like a painting they stand discreetly and wait for you to make your own decision about them, and then you notice the scenes that lurk in their backgrounds that have something sinister in them.To properly enjoy Magic, you have to let your sense of logic free and appeal to your imagination to listen, and it will create its own meaning that s than can be said in words More books, reviews and otherworldly colours on Blood Red Velvet. Link garners effusive praise from Jonathan Lethem, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, Peter Straub, Alice Sebold, et al Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don t Some of her stories I enjoy, some of them I don t For example, take the two stories in this collection that I had read previously Catskin and Stone Animals, both of which I read in McSweeney s I liked Catskin slightly the second time around, but it still rates a thumbs down It s the tale of a witch and her three children and her revenge Strange things happen, and then other strange things happen, and in the end strange things happen I think because it s not grounded in any kind of reality that I can recognize, I just couldn t invest in the characters There s the crazy witch who dies and becomes a cat, and her devoted son, who she dresses in a cat skin, and they kill the witch who poisoned her and they turn his children back into cats, and probably drown them In short Many cats are harmed in the course of the story.Then there s Stone Animals, which I liked very much the first time around and continued to like very much on a second reading Perhaps because it is grounded in a reality I recognize A family moves to a house in the country that is reputed to be haunted The father is always away, still working in the city The very pregnant mother grows obsessed with painting the rooms of the house, even dreaming of drinking paint The daughter sleepwalks The son is afraid of the dark and of his father s beard Everyone in the house senses things that are wrong, off haunted First small things, like a toothbrush But then the family cat And then the daughter believes her brother is haunted The yard is infested with rabbits The father dreams that there are skyscrapers on the lawn and that his house continues down, down, down deep into the earth Things are strange, but not strange enough to force them to take any drastic action Life just continues, semi normal but unsettlingly off kilter And my favorite part of the story is something entirely un supernatural The parents marriage has been rocky The father is a problem solver, something of a workaholic, always on the job putting out fires So his wife decides that she needs to give him a problem to solve She confesses to an affair that she didn t have she submits to marriage counseling to work on a problem that doesn t exist This reinvigorates the marriage for a time, but now the move to the country has destabilized things Her husband is always at work, long hours, weekends spent in the city There are neighbors who think he doesn t exist She s already played her strongest hand this time, if the relationship is going to be saved, he ll have to be the one to save it Those two stories sort of encapsulate my feelings about Link I like the stories that incorporate elements of the surreal or supernatural into a recognizable reality The stories that are entirely strange and supernatural just don t appeal to me. This is a collection of weird short stories which can be loosely qualified as urban fantasy When I said the stories are weird, I really meant it I would not be able to tell the plot of any of nine stories from the book Do you want to know about a man loving a cannon How about a man marrying a dead woman and having children What about a whole nation sitting in a handbag A son of a witch walking around in a cat costume made out of cats You can have all of these and.This is the second book of the author I read I like the first one, Stranger Things Happen This book gives an impression that the stories are weird for the sake of being weird They are not simply weird, but the whole logic of the plot breaks in them For example, what was the point of The Cannon I do not consider myself to be an idiot, but this particular story made me feel like one The rest of them are not much better For the reasons above I cannot give this book than 2 stars I think I am done with Kelly Link for now. *DOWNLOAD PDF ⇢ Magic for Beginners ⇔ The Nine Stories In Link S Second Collection Are The Spitting Image Of Those In Her Acclaimed Debut, Stranger Things Happen Effervescent Blends Of Quirky Humor And Pathos That Transform Stock Themes Of Genre Fiction Into The Stuff Of Delicate Lyrical Fantasy In Stone Animals, A House S Haunting Takes The Unusual Form Of Hordes Of Rabbits That Camp Out Nightly On The Front Lawn This Proves Just One Of Several Benign But Inexplicable Phenomena That Begin To Pull Apart The Family Newly Moved Into The House As Surely As A Sinister Supernatural Influence Might The Title Story Beautifully Captures The Unpredictable Potential Of Teenage Lives Through Its Account Of A Group Of Adolescent Schoolfriends Whose Experiences Subtly Parallel Events In A Surreal TV Fantasy Series Zombies Serve As The Focus For A Young Man S Anxieties About His Future In Some Zombie Contingency Plans And Offer Suggestive Counterpoint To The Lives Of Two Convenience Store Clerks Who Serve Them In The Hortlak Not Only Does Link Find Fresh Perspectives From Which To Explore Familiar Premises, She Also Forges Ingenious Connections Between Disparate Images And Narrative Approaches To Suggest A Convincing Alternate Logic That Shapes The Worlds Of Her Highly Original FantasiesContents The Faery Handbag The Hortlak The Cannon Stone Animals Catskin Some Zombie Contingency Plans The Great Divorce Magic For Beginners Lull You can find this review and at Novel Notions Something I ve noticed over the course of my recent reading life is that, if you re in the mood for weird, you should definitely look into short story collections Some of the strangest and most memorable fiction I ve read in the past five years or so have been short stories This is not a format I thought I enjoyed, as I prefer to dig deeply into a story than twenty pages or so can accommodate Honestly, I probably never would have given short stories the chance they deserved if it weren t for the fact that I started writing my own, and the fact that Neil Gaiman reads his own collections in their audio format For those of you who aren t aware, Gaiman has an incredibly smooth, sultry, expressive reading voice, very similar to Benedict Cumberbatch in my opinion Listening to him read his own work is a fantastic auditory treat.Because I ve enjoyed Gaiman s short stories so much, I decided it was time to try out some other authors known for their short stories After doing some research, I decided on Kelly Link, as she s a big name in both the short story form and the literary fantasy and horror genres I m so glad I did While I didn t love every story in this collection, there were quite I few that I really enjoyed Below I ve given each story its own tiny review Overall, I think they came together to create a strong collected work.The Faery Handbag 4.5 starsThis little tale was a great way to kick off this collection It was grounded it reality but was also filled with a strangeness that was just taken for granted by the narrator I haven t been this enad with a purse since reading about Hermione s little TARDIS like bag in the final Harry Potter book that was so much bigger on the inside The handbag was the best type of magic, and it s a lovely idea that will stick with me There s also a wildly memorable grandmother, a sweet love story, and an under appreciated use for Scrabble tiles All in all, it was pretty close to perfect.The Hortlak 3.5 starsThis story really felt like it was pulled from the pages of a Gaiman collection Not that it felt plagiarized, mind you, but the elements that made up the tale felt very reminiscent of his work There s a, odd little cast of characters, each obsessed with something random like pajamas, and a quiet apocalypse taking place in the background You see, the entire story takes place in and around a little convenience store perched above a valley full of zombies These aren t violent zombies by any means, but they re not ideal customers My only complaint was that the characters, especially our perspective character, felt a bit hollow despite their interesting traits There was an inability to connect that hindered my enjoyment.The Cannon 1 starGood lord, why This was weird in the worst way It was a jarring departure from the preceding tales, and hit me like a dissonant chord in a lovely song Ick.Stone Animals 3.5 starsThere was something about this story that reminded me of Stephen King s The Shining. A young family finds and moves into a new home, and it seems like the fulfillment of their dreams But things start feeling haunted Not the house itself, but things the family brought with them It s super weird Things like a television and an alarm clock and a bathrobe, a purse and a toothbrush and a cat, suddenly inspire deep levels of discomfort And it seems like the stone rabbits outside the door might have something to do with that, and with the oddly high numbers of rabbits camping out on their lawn Things get weirder from there While the family was fun and the haunted items were an interesting twist, the ending lost me I still have no idea what actually happened.Catskin 4 starsThis tale felt like a throwback to fairytales, and I would have been completely unsurprised to find this story in a collection from Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm The views on witches and cats portrayed here were absolutely fascinating Evidently there s no such thing as a cat they are all humans sewn into catsuits by witches The idea that witches steal children because they cannot have their own, that their wombs birth houses instead of humans, was such an interesting idea And beware of a witch scorned, because she will stop at nothing to get her revenge The only downside to this story for me was that it was honestly kind of gross in places.Some Zombie Contingency Plans 4.5 starsAnother story that reminded me of Gaiman Soap is such a sweet but enigmatic character, who seems to have no true grip on his identity He becomes whoever others think he is to a certain extent His current hobby of choice is party crashing, and this story takes places at just such a party Learning about his backstory was fun, and I found the painting he keeps with him incredibly interesting His need to create contingency plans for any and every situation, especially in regards to zombies, was endearing I m still a bit baffled by the ending, but by this point I m starting to see a pattern with Link s storytelling decisions A short story stays with you longer if the ending is either open ended or vague, and Link capitalizes on this.The Great Divorce 3 stars There once was a man whose wife was dead She was dead when he fell in love with her How s that for an opener This was another clever concept on Link s part Imagine a world where the living become enad with the idea of the dead, so much so that they marry then and have little ghost babies The downside The living still can t see the dead Their marriages rely completely on mediums, who now find themselves serving as therapists and marital counselors It s a bizarre idea, and it was interesting to see play out But here again we have no real depth the the characters This story reminded me of George Saunders s Lincoln in the Bardo, which is a wildly popular novel that just didn t really work for me I can see this story in that same light I appreciate it, but it s not for me.Magic For Beginners 5 starsI think this was my favorite story in the collection I felt like I truly got to know Jeremy and his friends and parents, which immediately won me over Jeremy Mars is a delightfully quirky teenage boy, and his friends and family are just as endearingly weird I absolutely love the idea of the television show around which this story is based The Library is a show that has no ties to a network, and no set day or time on which it airs Fans have to remain constantly vigilant in order to find episodes when they air and alert their fellow fans The show is such an interesting concept It takes place entirely inside a library, but said library is mind bendingly vast, with entire lakes and mountains and ecosystems housed within its various floors In the first paragraph of the story, Link states that The Library you ve never seen on TV, but I bet you wish you had I desperately wish this show was real, and that I could watch and dissect episodes with Jeremy and his friends.Lull 4.5 starsI ve never read anything else quite like Lull It s a Russian nesting doll of a tale, a story within a story within a story, with the innermost story tying directly back into the outermost It s a fever dream, and I couldn t stop reading it We start with a group of friends playing poker and end with a Scheherazade worthy feat of storytelling It s in turn charming and disturbing, maudlin and fun There was one segment of the story where time went backwards, from death to birth, and it provided me with some deeply philosophical pondering.Overall, I thought this was a strong collection and a great introduction to the work of Kelly Link There was only one story that I really disliked, and I enjoyed far than I didn t If you like your fiction weird or literary or bite sized or all of the above, I highly suggest giving this collection a try. Here s the review from my twice yearly zine October 06 I think I preferred Link s debut short story collection, Stranger Things Happen, but I definitely appreciate what she s aiming for her Nobody writes stories quite like hers Kelly Link is herself no stranger to the bizarre,or even to charges of sometimes wading too deepinto its waters for some readers taste.In a recent missive to members of her onlinewriting workshop, Link encouraged writers to submit ambitious work.stories and charactersand narrative twists that only you are strange enoughto write Link has clearly taken this advice to heart, andthen some The stories that she and husband GavinGrant select regularly for Lady Churchill s RosebudWristlet, their twice yearly zine, as well those chosenfor the Year s Best Fantasy and Horror series, which thecouple have co edited with Ellen Datlow since2004 to say nothing of Trampoline, the 2003anthology Link edited by herself all of these reveal apenchant for the interestingly odd, the adventurousand ambitious short story.But this is nowhere evident than in Link sown short stories, most recently collected in thedelightful Magic for Beginners 2005, Small Beer Press.These are stories that toy with expectations, subvertwhat we think we know to reveal somethingfundamentally unusual and intriguing, sinister or sublime, at the core.These stories often do have the feel of dreams tothem which of course is to say the bizarre, but notsimply for its own sake The strange and unexpectedtwists these stories sometimes take, the playfulnessthat Link displays with her words, the worlds shebuilds that are not quite our own these are not anattempt to undermine reality, but to clarify it, tobetter understand and reveal the weird magic atreality s heart These have the feel not just of images,but of unsettling truths Link s stories are asfrightening, and as funny, and as dazzling as anylingering dream.