Kelly Link: Magic For Beginners

A short review of the collection Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link.

This collection of stories was our book for this month’s Kepler’s speculative fiction book group. I enjoyed the first story in the book, “The Faerie Handbag”, and figured it would be a charming collection of little modern fantasy vignettes. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the stories in the rest of the book!

By and large, these are plotless stories with obscure endings (and sometimes no endings at all): A family in an increasingly-haunted house (or are they just descending into madness?); an all-night convenience store frequented by zombies; a nested collection of semi-horror stories. None of them really go anywhere. The characters are occasionally just-barely-interesting, but are often flat and dull. The stories take odd turns for no reason and have no resolution or explanation. Many of them feel like set-ups for novels by Tim Powers – but only the set-ups. (Powers, of course, would carefully tie up all the details by the end of the story, which is exactly the opposite of Link’s tales.)

Other than “Handbag”, the title story comes the closest to being a satisifying story: A boy and his friends are fans of a bizarre fantasy television show, “The Library”. When he and his mother inherit property in Nevada from a late relative, a protracted goodbye leads to them heading out to Nevada. The story has a variety of interesting bits, and a build-up of “What the heck is going on here?”, but the story abruptly ends with no sense of a conclusion, leaving the reader entirely befuddled and frustrated. (Why the story is titled “Magic For Beginners” also seemed entirely obscure to me.)

Link does have a playful way with words, and many of the stories contain numerous humorous lines worth quoting to your friends. But beyond that element, I didn’t enjoy them, and I struggled to finish reading the book.

A pity, since I’d heard such good things about Link’s writing, but it’s clearly just not for me.

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