Review: “Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link

Thumbs up for Magic for Beginners: Stories by Kelly Link. Fantasy short stories.

For whatever reason we couldn’t sell this book for love or money at the bookstore where I work; it automatically went into the sale books, and even there it was known to linger. The logical assumption here would be that it is bad. Not so. After seeing several references to Kelly Link being one of the greatest living writers of fantasy short stories, I thought I had better find out for myself. Well, reading a few lines makes it immediately clear that Link is a great writer. The stories are intensely creative, clever, funny, and in some cases so memorable I found their images being incorporated into my mental stock of metaphor. I insisted that both of my coworkers read the title story, “Magic For Beginners,” so they would have the same bits in their heads as I do. (Never have I so deeply wished a story was true, because damn, I want to watch “The Library” and cosplay Fox.) “Catskin” is also get-under-your-skin good; “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” is wonderful fun. All of the stories have a sizzle of genius in one way or another. I will say, though, while I do think Link is a genius with words, I find her stories invariably flawed in the matter of endings. I know it’s acceptable these days to write stories that simply stop without resolving, but I am old-fashioned, it seems, and I find that kind of thing basically contradictory to the spirit of storytelling. I wonder: How hard it would have been, given Link’s enviably vivid imagination, to add just a few more pages or even paragraphs to each story to tell us what happened rather than just giving us an amazing setup and then dropping it? …But that caveat aside, if you like fantasy, you should read this collection. It shines.

Modern art is a waste of time. When the zombies show up, you can’t worry about art. Art is for people who are worried about zombies. Besides zombies and icebergs, there are other things that Soap has been thinking about. Tsunamis, earthquakes, Nazi dentists, killer bees, army ants, black plague, old people, divorce lawyers, sorority girls, Jimmy Carter, giant squids, rabid foxes, strange dogs, news anchors, child actors, fascists, narcissists, psychologists, ax murderers, unrequited love, footnotes, zeppelins, the Holy Ghost, Catholic priests, John Lennon, chemistry teachers, redheaded men with British accents, librarians, spiders, nature books with photographs of spiders in them, darkness, teachers, swimming pools, smart girls, pretty girls, rich girls, angry girls, tall girls, nice girls, girls with superpowers, giant lizards, blind dates who turn out to have narcolepsy, angry monkeys, feminine hygiene commercials, sitcoms about aliens, things under the bed, contact lenses, ninjas, performance artists, mummies, spontaneous combustion. Soap has been afraid of all of these things at one time or another. Ever since he went to prison, he’s realized he doesn’t have to be afraid. All he has to do is come up with a plan. Be prepared. It’s just like the Boy Scouts, except you have to be even more prepared. You have to prepare for everything that the Boy Scouts didn’t prepare you for, which is pretty much everything.
—from “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”

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