I’m a big fan of Kelly Link. She’s beyond imaginative, a unique and very talented writer, and I feel, sometimes, as though the essence of my writing and hers isn’t that much different. I absolutely loved her second collection, Magic for Beginners, and although I liked some of the stories in Stranger Things Happen, as a whole it didn’t have the same sort of impact that other book had for me.
I particularly loved “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” “Flying Lessons,” “Vanishing Act” and “Survivors’ Ball, or, The Donner Party.” But some of the others fell short to me. And even some of the stories I rather enjoyed had some of the same pitfalls I noticed in Link’s other stories when I first read Magic. One such pitfall is Link’s inability — or refusal — to wrap up most of her pieces. Not to say that everything should be neat and tidy with no loose ends, nor should everything work out perfectly and be completely comprehensible, because, as Link is clearly trying to show us, life isn’t that way. And if stories are meant to echo life, they can’t be that way either.
In some of Link’s stories — and in fact in a lot of them, particularly in this collection — it’s very hard to grasp the essence of the plot or of the story she is trying to tell. And although I don’t believe endings should be neat, I do think that the reader should be left with questions — not gaps in understanding. And sometimes, here, I felt that I simply wasn’t able to find the connective tissue or the point hidden underneath all those lovely words and brilliant ideas. I think sometimes, whether or not this is the truth or the way it’s conveyed to the reader, Link’s ideas are great but not quite complete. Half-baked. In the best way, possible, of course. I think some of her stories are novels and novellas yearning for expansion, and others are in need of pruning.
Some of her stories are delightfully odd, some of them are bafflingly bizarre. But I enjoy them. I get a feel for her characters, except when she deliberately makes things too confusing, like in “Louise’s Ghost” or “The Girl Detective.” I think if Magic for Beginners was fabulous, this book, her first book, was the work of an unpolished artist who hadn’t yet learned that there is a difference between keeping a mystery and an air of wonder about a story and deliberately withholding information that could help clarify the end result.
But more often than not, you get the point. There’s a feminist angle, a whole lot of fantastical elements that are meant to be enjoyed as much as they are to inform about some aspect of society or life.
I love Link. I really do. And I recommend her to anyone who thinks fantasy is stale. But I don’t know if I would recommend this particular collection in whole. Magic is my go-to, and it will remain that way.