Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link is a collection of short stories by an author about whom I’d heard nothing.  To be honest, had I seen this book in a bookstore or library, I doubt I would have picked it up at all.  Then again, if I had picked it up by some fluke, I would have soon put it down because the blurbs on the book, while full of praise and promise, don’t tell me anything about what to expect when I open the book to read.

How unfortunate!

Thankfully, my friend Saila had to read one of Link’s stories for a class she is taking and, curious, I wanted to read the story for myself and was able to obtain a copy of this book easily.

The first three stories in the collection are creepy and establish a tone that is clear.  “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” is an eerie story full of obsession and on its heels is “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back” about a college romance with elements of the supernatural.  Then “The Specialist’s Hat” an award-winning story is simply a ghost story beautifully told.

But the collection didn’t start soaring for me until “Flying Lessons” (and yes, I see the irony in my choice of words) which is heavy with allusions to Greek mythology blatantly contextualized by the end of the story.  The next short story, “Travels With the Snow Queen” is a gorgeous re-telling of the Andersen fairy tale and yet another award winning short-story.

How could I never have heard of this writer before?

"Vanishing Act" and "Survivor's Ball" return to the ghostly theme offering two very different gothic tales before moving into "Shoe and Marriage" which I found oddly humorous, moving from a retelling of the expected fairy-tale (as implied by the title) and moving into some snide commentary on contemporary circumstances.  Link doesn't ever take any easy outs; it would be too easy to take the Cinderella story into a foot fetish tale.

"Most of My Friends Two-Thirds Water" is a curious story of a relationship between friends but has a psychological depth that is foreboding throughout.  Then "Louise's Ghost" fuses the idea of friendship and ghosts into a single story.

Last but not least, "The Girl Detective" is a blatant reference to the Nancy Drew books as the covers imply.  But more because there is a reference to a traditional fairy tale as well, overlaid with amusing cultural references and by the time the final story ends the result is that of pure satisfaction.  Link's talent is a surprise, her prose dazzling from page to page.  I could not imagine adding a single story nor removing one, they work so well together.  There is nothing thrown together about this collection and each story stands powerfully on its own.

I think a lot of writers could learn a lot from Kelly Link.  I know I could.

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