by Kelly Link
First collection? No
Nominated for a World Fantasy award
Kelly Link broke onto the bigger literary
scene with her short story collection Stranger Things Happen,
followed by Magic for
Beginners. Because of the creativity, humor, and
intelligence evident in each of her complex stories, she moved quickly
from being known by a small group of readers to winning Nebula awards
and a Hugo and a World Fantasy Award.
with Kelly Link and win a copy!
"Anyone might accidentally dig up the
wrong grave. It’s a mistake anyone could make"
Reviewed by Kristin Thiel
There are two things one might think of first when trying to put Kelly
Link and her writing, and specifically this latest collection, into
context for Link’s new readers.
One might be the author photo in this edition of Pretty Monsters
- in it, Link appears so unassuming. Only the tiniest of smiles and her
gaze not meeting the viewer’s. Take that level of quietness, that level
of introversion, casualness, plainness, sweetness - whatever one may
consider it - and reverse it one hundred eighty degrees to understand
Link’s stories are sharp and tart, and a reader
cannot avoid the clarity of her voice and the complexity of her
thoughts. In the tiniest of details, Link zaps both her characters and
her readers, as she does in the story Monster,
in which a human-eating beast infilitrates a children’s camping trip:
"There was a picture over Terence’s camp bed of this girl sitting on an
elephant in Thailand. The girl’s name was Darlene. Nobody knew the
elephant’s name." That last line both fits voice of the main
characters, children, and adds a spark of humor unexpected in a story
about demons both physical and mental.
exemplifies Link’s detail-oriented style. Readers meet a young man who
writes poems about girls’ breasts looking "lonely but also beautiful,
like melted ice cream", and later in the story, mud oozes out of a shoe
pulled from a swampy trail like "lonely, melting soft-serve ice cream."
Elsewhere, the jolting frenetic ghost storytelling and mean joking of
prepubescent boys are paired with the monster’s "voice like a dead tree
full of bees: sweet and dripping and buzzing" - and then all of that is
mixed with the unexpected gentleness of the camp’s bully. Without being
asked, the bully stands next to counsellor Terence, holding out his
shirt so that the "rain wouldn’t fall in Terence’s ear" while the
counsellor looked for that previously mentioned lost shoe.
Another of this collection’s stories, The
is set after the AOL Cable Access Riots of 2012, near enough to present
day that the Darwin Award still exists and everyone still uses uses
cell phones, but far enough that people also use peeties and googlies,
much cuter sounding versions of the Kindle, and more intimidating
sounding "smart crayons"; California and Mexico have become Calexico
and parts of the United States and Canada have become the Potlach
Territories, Vermont is under martial law, McDisneyUniverse formally
exists; and aliens have landed and gone away. Fourteen-year-old Adorno
and his father have journeyed to meet Hans Bliss, the throwback German
hippie to whom the aliens appeared.
Link doesn’t just write prettily and forcefully, those two
terms not being exclusive. Rather, Link does as any good writer and
says things, not just speaks them. Sometimes her work has a high
threshold - a reader may not quite understand a story, even after
multiple readings. But in The Surfer,
Link is nothing if not a commentator on our own current world. Adorno’s
mother and brother died in the previous, but not the world’s last, flu
pandemic, which jumped to humans from horses. The world overall has
broken into unignorable fighting and frustration. The ending is maybe
not unexpected, as much as anything written by Link is not unexpected,
but it’s shocking and true-feeling all at once.
dipping close to today’s current events, Link avoids the cliché. Bats,
possibly even vampire bats, invade the flu quarantine hangar in Costa
Rica where Adorno and his father stay before meeting Hans Bliss. When
the bats left for the night, "they bled out into the twilight in a
thin, black slick, off to do bat things … This whole corner of the
hangar floor was totally covered in bat guano. My dad said it wasn’t a
health risk, but as a matter of fact, one of the joggers slipped on it
the next day and sprained an ankle." No reader is thinking about the Twilight series
anymore after that.
Finally, that other bit of context to help readers new to Link’s work?
It may be found in these lines, from Pretty
"There were two girls in a room. They were reading a book.
Now there are two wolves. The window is open and the moon is in it.
Look again, and the room is empty. The end of the story will have to
Link has a knack just for sentences that are so stubby and
quick-paced they leave a reader breathless, or sure, a little annoyed:
"Where was I?…My legs. And I was strapped in. I was holding on to
something. A soccer ball…I had a sip of water. Swallowed." And she has
a knack for remembering even among big-picture issues that her youthful
and quarantined characters would set up a petting zoo of bedraggled
crabs and sandy snakes, drawing out long and lovely phrases and ideas.
But readers should not look to Link’s stories for finality.
Satisfaction, yes, but not finality. Link’s stories are like warm
peanut butter - sticky enough to last past the final turned page, slick
enough to drip-drip-drip off the edge and land … where?