Kelly Link has lit up adult literary publishing, and Viking is honored to publish her first YA story collection. Through the lens of Link's vivid imagination, nothing is what it seems, and everything deserves a second look. From the multiple award-winning The Faery Handbag, in which a teenager's grandmother carries an entire village (or is it a man-eating dog?) in her handbag, to the near-future of The Surfer, whose narrator (a soccer-playing skeptic) waits with a planeload of refugees for the aliens to arrive, Link's stories are funny and full of unexpected insights and skewed perspectives on the world. Her fans range from Michael Chabon to Peter Buck of R.E.M. to Holly Black of Spiderwick Chronicles fame. Now teens can have their world rocked, too!
Kelly Link is an American author best known for her short stories, which span a wide variety of genres - most notably magic realism, fantasy and horror. She is a graduate of Columbia University.
Her stories have been collected in four books - Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters, and most recently, Get in Trouble. She has won several awards for her short stories, including the World Fantasy Award in 1999 for "The Specialist's Hat", and the Nebula Award both in 2001 and 2005 for "Louise's Ghost" and "Magic for Beginners".
Link also works as an editor, and is the founder of independant publishing company, Small Beer Press, along with her husband, Gavin Grant.
Y'know how people will be like, 'I don't really listen to rap stuff, but I really liked that Nas album,' or whatever, and then you know that Nas album is probably not super representative of hip-hop? I don't really read fantasy, or sci-fi, but I fuckin love Kelly Link. I'm like, I guess these count as fantasy stories lots of the time, and that's clearly the community Ms Link is coming from, and about which she tends to talk, but still, her stories engage me in a way that genre stuff consistently doesn't. It's pretty intense.
I read- uh, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn when I was fourteen, fifteen years ago, and haven't been able to get interested in a book with a dragon in it since, I don't think. But oh! Sci-Fi is a genre, and Kelly Link tends to work in worlds that mostly resemble our own, you say. Yes, I respond, but fuckin, I can't even read Phillip K Dick unless it's Valis, which is just him being paranoid and ranting about how much god can suck it. And I theoretically really like Dick.*
So I'm not sure why I like Kelly Link so much. I guess 'cause maybe I first heard about her from Oriana, because Oriana said she was like Aimee Bender. But she rules. Aliens and awkwardness and feelings and Weirdness and the extravagant, oh my!
Isla's coming. Gotta go. The caveat is that I'd already read most of these in her other books. Ack! Also I don't know why this is YA when the first story includes the words "rack," "fuck," "shit," and some euphemism for "do it" (which, already is a euphemism) I can't remember. But I think it rules that we're holding young adults in high enough esteem to handle such things.
There are nine short stories in Kelly Link's collection, Pretty Monsters. I picked this up without realizing that I'd actually read two of them before, both offered in other YA short story collections I had loved. Unfortunately, those two stories proved to be the best of the lot. There is one other story I liked. The rest have promise but tend to fall a bit flat. Reviews of each are below. Overall, however, 3 good stories out of 9 is not a great record. It's really frustrating because Link is a really good writer and there's the feeling with a bit more effort, a bit more refining and editing, every one of these stories could have been incredible.
The Wrong Grave A boy decides to dig up his dead girl friend's grave to retrieve some of his poetry that was buried with her. Unfortunately he discovers the girl in the grave isn't exactly resting peacefully and she certainly doesn't seem to be his girlfriend. The close narration and tone of this, the intimate author voice and rich descriptions promised a good story. It never delivered however. The story seems to contradict itself, little is explained and there seems to be no overall point to the story - it's merely a vaguely creepy (though even that lacks any real punch) vignette with no real plot, character progression or change.
The Wizards of Perfil This short story was originally offered in the Firebirds Rising anthology and is one of the two that I really enjoyed. Onion and Halsa are cousins living in a country torn apart by war. When Halsa's mother desperately needs money she sells one of the two children to a servant of the wizards of perfil. Who exactly the wizards are, and want they want with the children they buy, is a mystery however. This story is alternately told from Onion and then Halsa's viewpoint, switching back and forth as it progresses. The descriptions are lush and enchanting and the characters really engaging. This story has something to say and a nice little twist at the end. Overall really satisfying and wonderfull.
Magic For Beginners This story centers around a group of friends all obsessed with the same TV show called "The Library." The plot of said show seems insanely bizarre as are the characters. Like much of this story, which jumps all over the place with vague coherence the title of the story is a mystery to me. It doesn't seem to belong or apply to the story at all. The worst part is, the main characters are likable and well drawn and in a story with an understandable plot, pace and destination they WOULD be magic, at least as far as readers are concerned. Instead this just ends up an absurd jumble of images with little meaning and largely unmemorable. Weird for weird's-sake does not make a story.
The Faery Handbag This story was originally published with the Faery Reel anthology which is utterly fabulous. Again this is one I've read before and discovering it again was like finding an old friend. I fell completely back in love. In this story the main character, Genevieve, tells the story of her grandmother's enchanted handbag which holds an entire faery village in its depths. The descriptions are sweeping and beautiful, the pace perfect and the characters enthralling. This is the sort of story I want to wrap around myself and wallow in. Perfection.
The Specialist's Hat Twin girls are being watched by an other-worldly babysitter who tells them the story of the specialist's hat. Once again it feels like someone took the outline of a good story, put it in a blender and hit puree. The results are confusing, less than spine-tingling and well kind of annoying actually. A possibly carnivorous hat, that's all I got out of this story. Jumbled images, lots of nice sound bite descriptions and no sense whatsoever. Very disappointing.
Monster Bunkhouse six goes on an overnight camping expedition after being warned by bunkhouse four that there's a monster in the woods. Once again lots of promise and eerie creepiness and kablam it all blows up and goes to hell. I hate it when a good story just falls apart. This particular story loses it when the monster shows up. He's chatty & carries an address book and likes ripping the heads off kids and slurping out their brains. The reader is plunged from Dean Koontz creepiness into a morass of ridiculous overdone 2nd grade level ghost story gore. No point, and again disappointing.
The Surfer A young rising-soccer star is kidnapped by his father to Costa Rica ahead of a flu pandemic and the two get caught in a week-long quarantine with other airline passengers in a slightly dystopian future. This story frustrates me SO much. It was really fricking good! Right up until the story resolution. It felt like the story was building somewhere and it just never got there. I find no deeper meaning in the story, little resolution and it feels as if an ending was just tacked on so the story would meet its word count. I really liked the characters, they were all well drawn, the dialog and description were great and the initial plot seemed well done. This could have been an awesome story, but never got there. Again, the title seems little connected to the actual story and main characters.
The Constable of Abal Ozma and her mother must flee the city of Abal after her mother kill's a constable. Ozma takes the constable's ghost with her, tied to a ribbon, and befriends him. This is one of the more appealing stories in the anthology with a definable beginning, middle, end and coherent plot. Yay! The usual rich descriptions and intriguing characters. It doesn't quite capture me the way The Faery Handbag did, but I still really liked it. Link is an excellent writer when her game is on.
Pretty Monsters The final story in the collection and the title piece. This is actually two stories woven together - in the main story a group of girls kidnap one of their friends and her sister for an "ordeal" ignoring the two girls' insistence that they must be home at 5 to take medicine for a medical condition. In the second story, one of the girls from the first is reading about Clementine, a girl who has been obsessed with a boy named Cabal her whole life and ultimately pursues him to Europe only to discover some very disturbing things about his new life. Pretty Monsters ends with a surprise third story, just to completely muddy the waters and make the thing more confusing. I get the inference of what happened in all three stories and how they are loosely linked. I just don't find much there to really like. It's disjointed and again, little point, no larger picture or story being told and disappointing overall.
Η Κέλι Λινκ γράφει σύγχρονη διηγηματογραφία. Ανήκει στην προμετωπίδα μιας καινούρια Αμερικάνικης γραφής: ευφάνταστη, απρόβλεπτη, συχνά προκλητικά άτακτη, χρησιμοποιεί αστικούς μύθους, παραμύθια και ε.φ. Συνήθως ό,τι έχω διαβάσει από το είδος με αφήνει με ανάμεικτα συναισθήματα. Ιστορίες άλλοτε όμορφες, πολλές φορές αβέβαιων επιμύθιων και μυθοπλαστικών προθέσεων. Είναι γεμάτες υποσχέσεις από ανθρώπους που ξέρουν την φανταστική λογοτεχνία τους και ξέρουν και την σύγχρονη, πιο διανοούμενη λογοτεχνία του. Θέλουν να τα ταιριάξουν, να βγουν από το καύκαλο των περιορισμών, όμως δεν τους κάθεται καλά. Ή μπορεί να επιτυγχάνουν τις επιδιώξεις κι εγώ να χάνω κάτι. Στην Κέλι Λινκ, όμως, είναι ξεκάθαρο: πιάνει. Γιατί η Κέλι Λινκ είναι κάτι άλλο. Το κάνει σωστά, το κάνει εθιστικά. Όταν είχα πιάσει το τελευταίο της βιβλίο, Get in Trouble, δεν ήξερα τι ακριβώς θα διάβαζα. Όταν μερικές μέρες μετά, έκλεισα το βιβλίο ήμουν ευτυχής που την γνώρισα. Με το Pretty Monsters είμαι μαγεμένος.
Τι διαβάζει κανείς εδώ; Πολλά όμορφα πράματα, όπως για παράδειγμα βαρύθυμους νέους που σπάνε την μονοτονία τους με επικίνδυνα παιχνίδια, λυκάνθρωποι και βαμπίρ, αγόρια που ξεθάβουν τάφους για να πάρουν τα θαμμένα ποιήματά τους πέφτοντας στο φάντασμα της κοπέλας τους. Μαγεμένα βασίλεια και μάγοι, εξωγήινου, ιστορίες μέσα σ’ άλλες ιστορίες.
Η Κέλι Λινκ έχει φαντασία αλλά έχει και μια καταπληκτική γραφή. Θα θυμίσει πιθανώς τον Νιλ Γκέιμαν. Η φωνή της ποικίλει, μεταλλάσσεται από ιστορία σε ιστορία θυμίζοντας τις χαμαιλεοντικές παραλλαγές του μεγάλου βρετανού γύρω από το παραμύθι: άλλοτε ονειρική αφήγηση, άλλοτε εξιστορεί με αυτήν την εθιστική κινηματογραφική φωνή που κάνει τα πρώτα 10 λεπτά των ταινιών τόσο εθιστικά – πως είναι το ξεκίνημα του "στάσου πλάι μου"; Η Κέλι Λινκ δεν κάνει κοιλιές, δεν χάνει τον ρυθμό, παρά χορεύει τον αναγνώστη στους ρυθμούς που επιλέγει. Εφαρμόζει αφηγηματικές τεχνικές που ποτέ δεν επισκιάζουν την ροή, ωστόσο ο αναγνώστης που ενδιαφέρεται για αυτά, τις ξεχωρίζει. Όπως για παράδειγμα στο surfer, όπου μέσα από τα ματιά του εφήβου πρωταγωνιστή, αδρά και παραπλέυρως σκιαγραφείται ένας πατέρας που υπό μια άλλη γωνία θα ήταν ο πρωταγωνιστής της ιστορίας. Βρίθει έξυπνων, πολύχρωμων μεταφορών όπως το κορίτσι που δεν μπορεί να κρατήσει μυστικά. Αν της πεις για το πάρτι έκπληξη "θα τιναχτεί σε χίλια μικρά κομμάτια που θα φωνάζουν 'πάρτι έκπληξη!' 'πάρτι έκπληξη!'. Έχει χιούμορ, ξέρει να γράφει συναρπαστικούς, σκερτσόζικους διαλόγους. Έχει τόσα κι άλλα τόσα που θα θέλαμε από την φανταστική λογοτεχνία. Και, είμαι σίγουρος, μπορεί να κάνει πολλούς βιβλιόφιλους που αποστρέφονται το αλλόκοτο, να το αγαπήσουν.
Kelly Link’s short stories are like other people’s dreams. Except usually when someone pins you down to tell you about a dream they just had because they’re so excited by how weird and meaningful it is, you’re like “…um, okay. Whatever.” Or maybe that’s just me. Other people’s subconsciouses? Boringly impenetrable.
But Kelly Link’s stories are like dreams we’ve all had. There’s something really down deep twisty and disturbing she gets at, some common psychological taproot of cultural metaphor think. Because these stories, they don’t always make sense. They don’t often make sense. I finished several of them and went, “wait . . . what?” Except that they do make sense, somewhere down in the marshes. In a slippery way that’s hard to talk about.
“Magic for Beginners” – My favorite, I think. Which is odd, because it’s the New Weirdest of them all, and I’m not into New Weird. It’s about a fifteen-year-old boy and his friends who watch a TV show that might be from another dimension, and a wedding chapel in Vegas, and a painting, and first kisses and – well, it’s really about how we tell stories about people dying. It’s just awesome and fuckin’ weird, trust me.
“Monster” –An interrogation of the classic horror short story about boys at summer camp, while also being a really good one in its own right. Eek.
“The Surfer” – A kinda scifi kinda coming of age story about a teenaged boy in Costa Rican quarantine while the world waits to see how bad this flu epidemic will be, also aliens and soccer. One of the…younger stories, I think, but still so vivid and psychological.
“Pretty Monsters” – Another one that plays with classic horror tropes, but this time with a neat twist flip at the end to mess you up about who is the victim and who the monster, and to remind you that horror is really a perspective game.
“The constable of Abal” – One of the more obvious stories (an actual explanation and everything!) and so not one of my favorites.
You can’t download this entire collection, but a lot of Link’s work is available under Creative Commons. Though I highly recommend the audiobook of this collection -- it's a great production.
First of all, today's young adults must be made of sterner stuff than I am, because this collection would have scared the crap out of me at just about any age before thirty. OK, actually, some of the stories totally creeped me out even now. I've read a few of them in other collections and anthologies, but they were well worth reading again. I particularly loved "The Wizards of Perfil" (which I had read before) and "The Surfer," which I hadn't. Kelly Link, like the current big thing Karen Russell, writes stories that follow their own strange and distinct logic. Some are set in a world like ours only slightly different, others in fantasy backgrounds. There's even an excellent near-future SF story. Unlike Karen Russell's, these stories do not seem to be quirky for the sake of quirky, or perhaps they are simply less self-conscious about it. Link also has a knack for ending her stories at the right place, which can be more difficult than it sounds. Extra points as well for Shaun Tan's illustrations.
This collection of nine short stories started out with a powerful degree of curiosity, only to completely untangle and delve into a chaotic and disjointed mess for the final three stories.
To be honest, the structure of the book itself was an ironic reflection of how each of the stories unfolded. They started out with originality with some exceptionally haunting imagery, but they either tried to do too much which diluted the power of the story, or they’re too allusive and confusing which makes the final pay-off not worth it.
Let’s take the tale called “The Surfer”. Clearly inspired by the Hendra virus in the 90s, this dystopian tale examines the world from the perspective of a young teenage boy living in a global pandemic (yah, spookily familiar), only this virus is fatal upon contraction. That plot and the characters in the story were engaging enough as they were, but then there was a whole added element of alien invasion and cult mentality which… just didn’t need to be there.
That becomes a running element of each of the stories: they could easily have been divided into two or three separate stories within themselves. But then, you have other stories like “The Specialist’s Hat” which was wonderfully atmospherically creepy, but then trailed off rapidly and ended poorly, rendering the tale totally vapid and jumbled.
It’s a shame overall. Because Links clearly has a brilliant imagination, but it tried to take on too much in either exceptionally short spaces or excessively long-winded ones. I’d like to see her writing in a few more years with some more refining, editing and structural effort because she has the imagination to create tangible scenes and characters but lacks the finesse to cement them in literature.
Kelly Link’s writing is gorgeous. These stories don’t all have the same tone or theme or setting or anything like that, but they do have that writing style in common, and it’s great. I’m not actually very good at liking short stories — I like developed characters and longer plots — but these are, for the most part, pretty enjoyable. ‘The Surfer’ was, if anything, a little too long for me, because most of what happens is character development.
I was surprised to realise I’d read both ‘The Wizards of Perfil’ and ‘The Constable of Abal’ before; I’m not sure where I read them, but it must’ve been an anthology. They’re probably my favourite of the two for language, setting and worldbuilding — and unsurprisingly, they’re the most secondary-world-fantasy of the bunch.
I was less sure about the alternating stories of ‘Pretty Monsters’; I think I’d have to read them again to really get the whole plot. There’s a great atmosphere with all of these, though: creepy, subtly wrong, and sometimes wry and funny as well.
Which was a disappointment, because I loved Link's kooky voice, and her wonderfully creative description/metaphor. She's obviously a talented writer!
But, with every story I read, I found myself wondering when she would get to the point. And when the beauty of the short story form is that it is fast-paced and exciting, having stories that meander around the point and lollygag around becomes extremely frustrating for the reader.
نه. خوب بود، اما نه اونقدری که دلم میخواست. معمولا انتظارم از کتابهای نشر پریان بیشتر از اینه. نمیتونم بگم داستانهاش ضعیف بودن، اما بیشترشون خیلی طولانی میشدن، در حالی که پتانسیل داستان توی یک سوم اولش تموم میشد. حتی همین هم توی داستانهای مختلف متفاوت بود. پیشنهاد میکنم به خاطر همون دوتا داستان خوب توی کلِ کتاب همشو نخونین.
One night, I read the first story and thought, "This is fun and original!". I read the second story that same night and thought, "Wow, I may be in love with Kelly Link!". I went to bed, went to work the next day, and recommended this book to everyone who may be interested, antsy to get home and keep reading.
My enthusiasm waned a little bit at the beginning of "Magic for Beginners". I thought, "There's a lot of quirk here for the sake of quirk, and this story is not making a lot of sense. These pop culture references are also making me want to die." The story was hugely long and it never got better and my opinion of the book was soured. I made it to about halfway through "Surfer" when, realizing that the problems I have with Link's writing would never get better and my annoyance had reached fever pitch, I had to put the book down. Over half of the way through. Bah! I hate when that happens. Especially after I've told almost every freaking person I have regular contact with how awesome a book is.
Kelly Link is a good story teller. Her stories have great beginning hooks, her plots on bare paper are interesting, and her ambiguous endings often give me a chill, even if I find the story that came before tedious. But I cannot stand the extraneous details, the contemporary references, and the overly clever paragraphs that have no purpose in the story except to be quirky and "original," all serving to obscure what could otherwise be a good tale. Sorry. Not my fave.
ETA: I wonder if I would enjoy an adult collection of Link's short stories, since this is technically YA. I'd be open to trying it.
In a series of 9 stories, I liked 7 a whole bunch, 1 a little bit, and 1 not at all. But as the song goes, 7 1/2 outta 9 ain't bad. Even when I didn't like a story or found it ok, I was awed by Kelly Link's writing. I have read a ton of great books by great writers. Link surpasses every single one of those writers by a mile, at least. She's so compelling readable and every one of her words and thoughts are pitch perfect I just don't know how I haven't read anything by her before. In fact, I'm embarrassed I haven't. Two of the stories, "Magic for Beginners" and "The Surfer" were among the best things I have ever read. Ever. She has a style that is like a cross between J.K. Rowling and Daniel Handler (Lemony Snickett). She mixes fantasy and absurd humor in a beautiful, magical mixture that also seems to explore deeper truths about our reality. "The Wizards of Perfil" didn't really work for me, but other reviewers have it among their favorites. And the ending of the title story, "Pretty Monsters" tried a little to hard. It was ok, but the rest of the story deserved so much more. Still. This book is amazing. Filled with surprises and thrills on every page. And Kelly Link may now be my favorite writer.
PRETTY MONSTERS is a collection of nine short stories; all of which were quite interesting. Here is a sentence or two about each story...
1. The Wrong Grave - Miles Sperry decides to dig up his dead girlfriend, Bethany Baldwin, to get back some poetry that he wrote for her after she died and wasn't smart enough to make copies of. When he opens the grave, he has discovered that it is the wrong one. Now he's got some strange dead girl following him around all night.
2. The Wizards of Perfil - This is about a boy named Onion and a girl named Halsa. Onion's parents have died and Halsa's mother is watching after him and the other children. While in the market of Perfil, she sells Onion to someone who says they will take him to the Wizards of Perfil. For some reason, they bring Onion right back and take Halsa instead. Once Halsa is there, she discovers that the Wizards are incredibly vain and super lazy. But there is something that neither Onion or Halsa knows about the wizards.
3. Magic for Beginners - A boy named Jeremy Mars and a few of his friends are obsessed with a show called The Library. Jeremy's mother and father have some problems getting along because Jeremy's father is a writer. When his father puts Jeremy in one of his books and then kills him off, his mother insists that she and Jeremy go to Las Vegas to see the wedding chapel she has inherited from her late sister. But Jeremy is afraid that he'll miss the next spontaneous episode of The Library!
4. The Faery Handbag - Genevieve's grandmother, Zofia, has a mysterious handbag that is apparently a family heirloom and over 200 years old. She never lets the bag out of her sight. Zofia tells Genevieve crazy stories about how a whole little village lives in that bag, and a nasty dog, too. If you open it up and aren't careful, you could get sucked into the handbag and not come out for years, even if you are only in the bag for one day. When Zofia dies, Genevieve is to be the keeper of the bag, but once Zofia is gone Genevieve can't find the handbag anywhere.
5. The Specialist's Hat - Samantha and Claire are identical twins who live with their father on the second story of a huge house. Their father is writing the history of the Eight Chimneys where they are currently living. Samantha and Claire have a babysitter who tells them about The Specialist, who apparently goes around the house killing people and that she herself used to live there and has seen The Specialist when she was younger. Things get a little creepy when The Specialist himself shows up that night.
6. Monster - Bungalow 6 has to go on their campout before camp ends for the summer. It's pouring out but they still want to go. The boys from Bungalow 4 say they saw a monster and they are determined to see it. James Lorbick is kind of the loser of the cabin, and Bryan Jones dares him to put on a dress once they've set up camp. He puts it on and ends up wearing it most of the night. When their counselor, Terence, goes down the hill to help out a female camper, the monster shows up...
7. The Surfer - Dorn is kidnapped by his father and taken to Costa Rica to see the elusive Hans Bliss, who was picked up by aliens years before and was told that they would come back to Earth some day. After landing in Costa Rica, they are quarantined because of the flu pandemic that has been killing for quite some time now.
8. The Constable of Abal - After Ozma's mother, Zilla, has killed the constable of Abal, they flee to a place called Brid that Ozma hates. Back in Abal, ghosts were quite the fashion. Zilla made them that way, but in Brid Ozma's mother acts like she despises ghosts and makes Ozma dress as a boy.
9. Pretty Monsters - Lee and her friends Nikki, Maureen, and Bad capture Czigany and (not on purpose) her sister, Parci, for Czigany's "ordeal" which is a ritual in their all-girls school. While on Lee's aunt's farm, Lee keeps pulling out her current book about a girl named Clementine and a boy named Cabell.
I enjoyed each of these stories. A few of them were so far-fetched and crazy! You can definitely tell that Ms. Link has a crazy imagination, which is incredibly awesome. I think my favorite story of the bunch was Monster. The ending of that one was just so strange to me, and also sort of funny. If you're in the mood for some crazy out-of-this-world stories, then this book is definitely for you. This would be a great one to read during the Halloween season because of all the spooky aspects and whatnot.
Kelly Link writes strange stories. They take all the things you know about genres and twist them up until they become nearly unrecognizable, and suddenly real. Fantastic things: a dead girl’s hair with a mind of its own, a country contained within a handbag, thick, viscous magic, beautiful aliens, a secret television show called The Library—seem plausible, tangible. This is not in a far away land a long time ago. It’s magic, plain and simple, and it’s happening right here, right now.
This latest collection, Pretty Monsters, is geared toward teens, and populated by young protagonists, each with their own collection of confusions about identity and relationships. These are woven with skillful curiosity into narratives of the strange, where in addition to the challenges of growing up, there are ghosts to catch, monsters to flee from, and wizards who want their dinner. But, whatever the characters encounter, an intimate knowledge of emotion takes the forefront.
Though the apt juxtaposition of the teenage years with fantasy and horror is not an innovation, Link keeps it fresh each time. Strange can be humorous, scary, sweet, intense or all of these at once, just like being a teenager. Word play and the quotable turn of phrase are frequent features. You’ll want to stop and read every few sentences again, aloud.
Some of the stories take place in our own world, or nearly enough. In those with settings that are different, world building is subtly interspersed so as not to interrupt the flow of the story. The reader catches on little by little, trying to solve the riddle of the place.
If there is fault to be found, it may be that some stories end abruptly or split off into unexpected directions. For those who find this disorienting, I offer a thought from Jeremy Mars, protagonist of the story titled Magic for Beginners:
Jeremy supposes that [the ever-changing casting in his favorite show, The Library] could be perpetually confusing, but instead it makes your brain catch on fire. It’s magical.
My gray matter is certainly singed. A highly recommended collection for anyone, teen or adult, with a taste for the strange.
Another winning collection from Kelly Link, as full of wit, charm, and sophisticated storytelling as her others. The stories skew a bit younger here, but Link's trademark surrealism and underlying darkness are still present, which means adults will enjoy the collection as much as young adults. Shaun Tan's illustrations add a nice touch. Choosing a favorite story in a Link collection is always hard, but the title story, "Pretty Monsters," really blew me away. It's a tour de force. The similarly named "Monster" and "The Wizards of Perfil" both stuck with me as well. Now that I've read and loved all four of Link's collections, I find myself impatiently awaiting a fifth.
I'll be honest. I only read 6 of the 9 short stories in this book. Usually, I feel obligated to finish a book even if I'm not enjoying it so much, but because these were short stories, there was nothing tying me to it. I enjoyed at least a part of each story. I loved the voice and concept of Magic for Beginners. However, I was ultimately dissatisfied by where each story went and how each story ended. They seemed careless rather than haunting.
I can’t overstate the highs of Pretty Monsters. Halfway into the shortest story, “Monster,” I was tempted to Skype a couple friends and just read the entire thing out loud to them for its great language and emotional subtext. And it turns out? I hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet. That story is about a Boyscout troop full of kids who are too insensitive, and in particular abuse more of their fellow boys, covering him and mud and peer pressuring him into crossdressing. They’re so preoccupied being weirdos that they don’t notice what’s been following them through the woods. But to say the story is about the monster that might devour the boys is to miss to the point of Kelly Link’s fiction.
Link has the knack of quirkiness. In “Surfer,” teens gather in a hanger to avoid a pandemic flu and read classic Science Fiction to take their minds off things. In the eponymous “Pretty Monsters,” a social-conscious teen says she only made up her very real heart condition to get out of gym – letting her not just seem normal, but abnormally cool to her peers. In both realistic and speculative settings, the draw of Link’s fiction is inhabiting specific emotional states in people’s arcs, a most concentrated kind of slice of life.
The finest of these is probably “Magic for Beginners,” about a group of teen fans of a fictional TV show called The Library, which seems like an even weirder Dr. Who. For a few pages you’ll wonder why you’re reading so much about The Library, until the context snaps into place: we’re seeing how these kids use their favorite media to define themselves, and to escape their lives. The trivia of whether or not The Library’s lead character died helps them ignore the unknowably complex question of whether their parents are getting divorced, or why Dad shoplifts to self-destruction. These are things the kids simply aren’t equipped to investigate or understand yet, whereas the cosmic struggles in The Library are shaped for them. And thus “Magic for Beginners” becomes about the utilities of fiction and fandom, including how it allows weirdos to find each other and bond. Those aren’t simple in themselves, either; just wait until Dad bases a character on his son in an upcoming novel, and brace yourself for what things he writes happening to his son.
Pretty Monsters varies stylistically enough to throw just about anyone. While the cover promises it’s ripe for the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd, I can’t fathom most teens engaging in some of the low-action, low-agency and low-stakes stories, which are frankly Literary. And the other side is something like “The Wizards of Perfil” is such a saccharine YA adventure story that I had to force myself to finish it, replete with preposterous stakes, anthems, and trite “major” observations like that war and adults can be unfair. The book is such a rabid mixture that, even if the first story doesn’t land for you, your best recourse is to jump to the next. Link reaches far in only nine stories.
If you haven’t tried Link’s short fiction, you should. Some stories are doubtless still online for free and discoverable through a Google search. And once you’ve gotten a taste, you know you’re a better person for ingesting more. The only dilemma about a 300+ page Link collection is not consuming it too fast and burning out. Savor it, and see what different things a little Speculative Fiction can do.
I read one of Kelly Link's other books, Magic for Beginners, way back in January 2009 and I only gave it three stars. (Complete with bonus debate on the term 'magic-realism' thanks to Caris.) I just couldn't get into it, and I felt bad, because I felt as though something in all of those stories was just waiting for me to grasp. So when I heard about Pretty Monsters, I decided to give Kelly Link another go.
Well, it's kind of another go. I think something like 70% of the stories in here were reprinted, either from Magic for Beginners (though I could be mistaken there) or other young adult anthologies. I was kind of disappointed when I opened up the book and immediately had to flip halfway through it to find something I hadn't read already. Good thing I didn't buy it or I would have felt a bit cheated. However, I was happy to see that the stories I was unfamiliar with were good. Very good. They drew me in, in exactly the way none of the stories in Magic for Beginners could. My favorite was "The Constable of Abal," which could easily have been an entire book - I was left wanting more from those characters and that world.
Kelly Link has one other anthology, Stranger Things Happen, actually her first. I think I'll check that one out, too.
I'm not sure I like Link's stories as much as I admire them. I like a linear narrative, and Link is non-linear. I like a strong resolution, preferably happy (yes, I read like a 12 year old girl) while most if not all of Link's stories are open-ended. I like my fantasy grounded in reality, while Link's stories are nothing if not surreal. But though I have only read two of these previously published stories before, I was surprised at how many times I went back to see how she constructed characters and plot (or deconstructed them). Her images are haunting, her meta-fiction themes are brilliant, but I have to say, I don't think I will be seeking out any more of Link's work, because frankly, it was a lot of work to get through them! While it was a challenging and edifying experience, I wouldn't call it an enjoyable one. I guess Margo Lanagan is more my style in terms of speculative fiction...
This is a book made up of short stories and the continuing theme is either fantasy, horror or science fiction. Unfortunately, the book was disappointing. Many of the stories started out to be so interesting and creative yet, would then end abruptly. It is as if the author had writers block or ran out of steam while writing and decided to make the stores short instead of finishing them. It is a shame because a few had such potential to be more than the way they were presented.
I would not recommend this book because it could be frustrating reading a story that only has a beginning and middle but no end. A very unfulfilling book.
She's grown up with the stories: open the handbag one way, and it's an entrance to another world; full of all the refugees from her grandmother's village, long ago. Open it the other way, and beware, because the sinister guardians will be released. She's never believed the stories. But bad things have happened, and boy has she messed up.
Previously read in Link's 'Pretty Monsters' collection, as well as in 'Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic" and in a Year's Best collection. This is a well-anthologized story! It's also available free on Link's site: http://www.kellylink.net/fiction/link...
Creepy! Creepy, creepy, creeeeeepy! If you buy, and move into a haunted house, you PROBABLY should check the babysitter's references, and maybe her ID, too, before you leave your young children with her. Better yet, just get the hell out of that house before it's too late.
I'd come across a few stories by Link in anthologies, and that was enough to make me excited to pick up this book at the store. Unfortunately, I think every story I'd already read by Link was in this book. That's OK, though, because these stories are all good enough to read at least twice.
The Wrong Grave A very Neil-Gaiman-ish feel to this one. Some time after his high school girlfriend is killed in a car accident, a guy decides to dig up her grave to retrieve the undoubtedly-brilliant poetry he buried with her. In doing so, he released an undead girl, who doesn't seem at all like his girlfriend...
The Wizards of Perfil It is probably impossible to convey, over the internet, how much I love this story. I've read it twice now, and I cried both times. It is beautiful, tragic, but above all, hopeful. The servants of the mysterious Wizards buy children, and take them off to Perfil, for who knows what purpose. When the children in the story get there, the purpose is not revealed. All they seem to do is menial tasks, and the Wizards are nowhere to be seen...
Magic for Beginners Jeremy and his friends are obsessed with a pirate TV show called 'The Library,' an ongoing drama where actors and characters are oddly interchangeable. Meanwhile, Jeremy's mom, and his very peculiar dad, who reupholsters sofas and has written a novel in which he kills Jeremy, are having marital problems. Jeremy's mom packs him off with her for a cross-country road trip, and fiction and reality intersect in indefinite ways.
The Faery Handbag She's grown up with the stories: open the handbag one way, and it's an entrance to another world; full of all the refugees from her grandmother's village, long ago. Open it the other way, and beware, because the sinister guardians will be released. She's never believed the stories. But bad things have happened, and boy has she messed up.
The Specialist’s Hat Creepy! Creepy, creepy, creeeeeepy! If you buy, and move into a haunted house, you PROBABLY should check the babysitter's references, and maybe her ID, too, before you leave your young children with her. Better yet, just get the hell out of that house before it's too late.
Monster Kids at summer camp, forced to go on a remarkably unpleasant camping trip in the rain. There's petty bullying, and a lot of mud. And then it gets significantly more unpleasant.
The Surfer A kid is drugged by his dad and kidnapped. He wakes up enroute to Costa Rica. All he can think about is how upset he is to be missing his big soccer game, back home. But maybe his dad did know something - he's a doctor, and in Costa Rica they find themselves imprisoned in a quarantine camp - back home, a plague has broken out. In Costa Rica, half the people there are hoping to join a surfer guru who preaches the imminent return of benevolent aliens who may save humanity from themselves...
The Constable of Abal Ozma (no, not the princess of Baum's Oz) tags along after her mother, a woman who has mysterious powers over ghosts. Ozma does too. She puts them on leashes like pets. She particularly likes the ghost of a constable that her mother killed on the road, and hangs on to it secretly even when her(?) - things get a bit indefinite - mother tells her to let it go. Her mother says they're going 'home,' but that goal isn't in sight. Instead, she goes into service at the home of a strange woman whose house is full of ghosts...
Pretty Monsters Teenage girls. A hopeless schoolgirl crush. Hazing. Werewolves. Two stories twine and interact, incorporating these things. What will happen at the end? We're not sure, but we can guess.
As I said earlier, I really like Link's writing. I do, however, have ambiguous feelings about her love of ambiguity. She really likes indefinite endings and unanswered questions. Sometimes it works really well (The Specialist's Hat), at other times (Magic For Beginners) I really felt as if the end of the story was missing - and I really wanted to read it. Still, a remarkably excellent book.
I originally picked up Pretty Monsters because of the kick-ass cover, and I actually considered bying it because the inside cover was adorned with glowing blurbs from some of my favorite authors, such as Holly Black, Alice Sebold, Garth Nix and Libba Bray. The summary itself was what sold me. Nine odd, quirky, perhaps a bit morbid tales involving a kid named Onion? I never stood a chance.
Pretty Monsters consists of nine short stories by Hugo award winner Kelly Link. The reviews thus far for them have been glowing, making the actual product hard to live up to. Perhaps this was the reason I was a tad dissapointed, or maybe it was just the fact that Ms. Link is trying a bit too hard to be strange and wimsical (I know, how can anything be too wimsical? I'm getting there, no worries)
The first story, "The Wrong Grave", begins with an unnamed narrator begins discussing a "boy she once knew" named Miles and how he decided to dig up his girlfriends grave to retrieve a poem he had left in her casket. He wants to submit it to a contest, and it's the "best one" he's ever written.
Hold on, I'm flipping through it and found the cutest sentence ever:
"Carpe diem before you run out of diem"
But Miles comes into some trouble when, upon pulling a grave out of the ground exactly eleven months after it had been burried, he discovers that it is, in fact, the titular "wrong grave".
This is a perfect introduction to the strange, oddly humurous stories that lay ahead in Pretty Monsters. If Kelly Link can do anything, it is make you wonder how anyone could come up with these things. Strange, strange stories about sporatic television shows and inherited phone booths on the Vegas Strip rule the day in this collection. Some of them are fun, even hilarious stories that force you into a subdued appreciation for the possibilities of a human's imagination. Others, on the other hand...
Okay, I'll say it. Some of them were just boring.
Like I said before, it seems Ms. Link tried a bit too hard to capture a strange quirkiness that's incredibly difficult to pull off. While she does have a beautiful writing style, and some very...interesting ideas (for lack of a better word), her execution is desperatly lacking in that factor that grabs the reader's attention. The first thing most people look for while reading any kind of story is something interesting, something that holds that interest without lagging. Most of her stories left me scratching my head, staring at the page and thinking, "...what...the...hell...?" in a daze. Now, this is not to say I don't enjoy the strange, because I do. But sometimes, there is a fine line between strange and whack. A lot of it is so strange, I couldn't even focus on the story. It got to the point where I was bored with the prose and the odd characters and the WTF??? plotlines. If your going to be weird, keep in mind not everyone is in your head, and not everyone can see what your seeing, so you have to figure out a way to convey your thoughts in a way that us average folk can understand.
Ms. Link is not lacking in imagination, that's for sure. Again, while some of the stories were a bit weird, many of them were hilarious, morbid, odd tales that gave me a fuzzy feeling inside. You know, the one you get when a book just makes you feel good? I don't know if you know what I'm talking about, but that's what this book gave me.
Don't get me wrong, it did have it's flaws. In fact, I can see a lot of people hating it. It's a type of story where you either love it or hate it, burn it or cherish it. Those who like traditional story telling, clear plots and in-depth characters will simply hate it. But anyone who likes humor, parody or satire, or even any Tim Burton movies, will definetly love it.
Despite overkill on the oddity and some poorly executed plotlines (making it lag at times), Pretty Monsters was definetly a fun, different read that I completley enjoyed.
Absolutely superb. I always meant to read me some Kelly Link and am so glad I finally did. I loved each and every completely different story in this collection. Link is clever, witty, imaginative, and remarkable. And she writes like a dream. So many wonderful lines and bits. Here's just a tiny one I thought was hilarious (partly because of a certain writer-of-a-very-famous-boy-wizard's overuse of a certain part of speech): "The goats are sneezing emphatically." (In the title story, page 285.) The stories are at times very funny, very scary, very thrilling, and always very wonderful.
Hello, yes, where do I officially sign up to join the cult of Kelly Link? This was AMAZING and so imaginative and I fully understand why people love her stories so much, they're all so imaginative and weird and utterly different from each other. I vaguely remember reading parts of this when I was a lot younger, possibly 9 or 10, and I don't think I was able to totally appreciate them, so I'm glad I came back to this now that I'm older. I think my favorites were probably "Magic for Beginners" and "The Faery Handbag" since they have so many things I love like pocket universes and faeries and strange families and bizarrely wonderful made-up TV shows, but everything in this anthology was really impressively unique and fascinating. Some of the stories like "The Surfer" didn't personally appeal me as much (also, I shuddered at the mention of masking in a pandemic–Kelly Link predicted the future!) so this collection is 4 stars, not 5, but I can still appreciate how well-written they all were. Basically I'm very glad I finally got around to reading this properly so I could appreciate how great a Kelly Link story is.
I can see why these stories are categorized as YA but they certainly aren't immature. I'd say this is my favorite of Link's collections that I've read. A variety of genres (horror, magical realism, fantasy, science fiction) that showcase Link's many strengths. Favorite stories: The Wizards of Perfil, The Constable of Abal, The Surfer, Magic for Beginners.
The stories in Kelly Link's collection Pretty Monsters are all written in simple, lucid prose, and her protagonists are, by and large, teenagers and younger children. That's enough, I guess, to explain why I found this book in the "Teen Fiction" section of my local library (well, that and the fact that Link specifically selected these stories for young adults). But they're also uniformly surreal, antic, and above all well-written, and you shouldn't let that sort of niche marketing put you off reading them, even if you happen to be more of a grownup.
Kelly Link is, of course, also one of the founders of the long-running and well-regarded slipstream magazine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. Her talents are multiple and well worth noting.
These nine tales are by no means lightweight stories, although Link has a light touch with them, full of observational humor and asides to the reader. Take Miles, for example, in "The Wrong Grave," about whom Link says "You might think at certain points in this story that I'm being hard on Miles, that I'm not sympathetic to his situation. This isn't true. I'm as fond of Miles as I am of anyone else. I don't think he's any stupider or any bit less special or remarkable than--for example--you. Anyone might accidentally dig up the wrong grave. It's a mistake anyone could make."
Or notice how deftly the smells that permeate "Monster" get inside your head--the odors of urine and feet and flatulence that go along with camping in the rain--even before the titular monster shows up.
Or this dark but keenly-observed fragment from the title story, the one that concludes this volume: "A monster. You and your friends, all of you. Pretty monsters. It's a stage all girls go through. If you're lucky you get through it without doing any permanent damage to yourself or anyone else."
Link has a way of making all her characters come alive, from the self-centered and really rather dim soccer player in "The Surfer" to Jeremy, the confused young man who treks across the country in "Magic for Beginners" (also the title story of an earlier collection--some of these are reprints). I enjoyed all of these stories, even the ones I'd read before in other places.