Kelly Link is one of the greatest American short story authors. She was born in Miami, Florida in 1969 and is a graduate of Columbia University and the MFA program of UNC Greensboro. Her short stories have won three Nebulas, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy Award. Her three collections of short stories, “Stranger Things Happen”, “Magic for Beginners”, and “Pretty Monsters”, are considered slipstream or magic realism, a combination of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and realism.
I am a fan of the science fiction world where the vampire, fae, witch, and ghost reign supreme but I have never encountered anything like what Link puts down on the page. Link constructs her short stories with imagination, complexity, and humor. I think the best way to describe reading a Kelly Link story is that it’s a crazy ride. You are up then your down. You feel like a genius because you figured out her symbolism then you feel completely lacking because you have no idea what she is talking about. Kelly Link is a tease. She gives you little pieces along to way and you think you have it all figured out. Sadly, you are sometimes wrong. Some stories require hours of after thought, at which point you have a “got it” moment. Only to return to the story and find something that contradicts said moment.
All three of her published collections are truly fantastic but I find myself being most drawn to “Magic for Beginners”. In my opinion, two of the greatest short stories ever written can be found within this collection, “Stone Animals” and “Lull”. In the interest of not giving too much away, “Lull” is a story constructed of stories. Its main setting is in a basement where a group of people are playing cards and telling stories. It is not what is happening in the present that gives this story life, meaning and depth, but the stories that the individuals bring to the table. “Stone Animals” is a story that revolves around a family and showcases each member’s attempts to control their environment and failing. Both short stories show the best of what Link has to offer.
In the generic world of short story authors of today, Link makes you work for it. Her collections should not be purchased if your goal is a fun, beach read. It is apparent that Link put a lot of effort into the creation of her stories and she seems to expect the same from her reader. Sometimes your effort pays off and you get it, other times you don’t. But the ride she takes you on is what makes Kelly Link so special.