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Magic for Beginners

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The nine stories in Kelly Link's second collection are the spitting image of those in her acclaimed debut, Stranger Things Happen: effervescent blends of quirky humor and pathos that transform stock themes of genre fiction into the stuff of delicate lyrical fantasy.

In "Stone Animals," a house's haunting takes the unusual form of hordes of rabbits that camp out nightly on the front lawn. This proves just one of several benign but inexplicable phenomena that begin to pull apart the family that's just moved into the house.

The title story beautifully captures the unpredictable potential of teenage lives through its account of a group of adolescent school friends whose experiences subtly parallel events in a surreal TV fantasy series.

Zombies serve as the focus for a young man's anxieties about his future in "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" and offer suggestive counterpoint to the lives of two convenience store clerks who serve them in "The Hortlak."

Not only does Link find fresh perspectives from which to explore familiar premises, she also forges ingenious connections between disparate images and narrative approaches to suggest a convincing alternate logic that shapes the worlds of her highly original fantasies.

297 pages, Paperback

First published July 1, 2005

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About the author

Kelly Link

207 books2,076 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,373 reviews
Profile Image for Rebecca.
1,214 reviews105 followers
October 19, 2012
I've only got so much patience for surrealist storytelling, so maybe this was not the anthology for me. The early stories in the collection are the kind of dream-logic-based oddities that, when you stumble upon them surrounded by other writers' work, are interesting, if a little unsatisfying in their lack of conclusion. For example, when Eastern European refugees hide in a magical handbag and a wayward boyfriend makes off with it, the idea is clever and the writing both fantastic and absurd. But each story seems progressively more self-indulgent. I can tolerate some non-linear storytelling, unexplained fantastic elements, the random insertion of zombies who lack all stereotypical characteristics of zombiness. But not altogether. In the later stories, even a pretense of causality is abandoned as characters very names change from paragraph to paragraph without explanation. There are bursts of brilliance all over the page, with startling concepts and wry asides, but the stream-of-consciousness suggests more the ramblings of someone who's high than the discipline of a professional writer. Each ends abruptly, a post-modern cop-out in which the author has finished the part of the story that interested her and then abandoned her characters without an ending. (Yes, I realize that this is a deliberate stylistic choice that's currently fashionable. I also think the literary scene's obsession with ignoring endings is self-indulgent to an extreme.) To be honest, I have a lot of trouble remembering which story contained what--they all kind of blend into each other, since none end and at no point does any event influence what happens later.

I'm reminded of many of the works of Grant Morrison--a million fascinating ideas swirling around the page, and a lack of an editor to chose three, sit the author down, and say "no, stop adding ideas--take these three and make an actual story out of them. Beginning, middle, end. You can even write it out of order. But stop adding things and finish what you started."

I usually reserve a one for something that I just cannot understand how it was published. Here, I do understand. This is literary wanking in genre form. It turns out that when you add enough zombies and time travel and the Devil to modern literary conventions, you end up with something that's nearly unreadable.

Perhaps I am too harsh. The ideas and the language really do sing. The question really does become how interested you are in story over style. For me personally, though, these feel rather like listening to someone recount their incoherent dream from last night.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,300 followers
July 8, 2013
Reading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.

I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people who write short stories and everything, but "Stone Animals" is the absolute very best short story that has ever been written. Oh, wait, except for "Lull"; that is actually the very best short story that has ever been written ever. I can't decide, but anyway, the rest of the writing world should just give it up, nothing can top this book.

Honestly I can't even do a real review of Magic for Beginners, or any Kelly Link. I love it and her too much, and there's nothing I can say that doesn't sound shoddy and trite and silly. So bah, I won't try.

But if you haven't read this book, there is a huge sad gaping hole in your life that you don't even know about.
Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,316 followers
January 15, 2015
Kelly Link writes what I should love - quirky, whimsical, creative and fantastical ideas with often dark imagery - but somehow all this mix of interesting things never ends up being a story.

Most entries in Magic in Beginners will draw you in with a unique idea, image or scene; this is the case with two of the best stories in the volume, The Faery Handbag and Catskin. In the first a young woman loses a handbag which belonged to her elderly grandmother, and tells its story: the handbag was a magical one, and contained an equally magical village within itself. In Catskin, an orphaned boy - the son of a murdered witch - dresses up as a cat, and embarks on a quest to avenge her: his journey is strange and dreamlike, full of compelling dark imagery.

Unfortunately, even these two most successful stories struggle to find a path and resolution; the rest just mixes up together. vents happen without relation to one another, and stories usually end abruptly, without resolution; in the end they become indistinguishable from one another, a mishmash of ideas, images and scenes - but not actual stories which we can remember in years to come. I'm yearning for fantastic, engaging stories, ones which would remind me of the tales I used to read as a young boy - and this collection simply doesn't meet these expectations.
Profile Image for tee.
239 reviews244 followers
November 16, 2012
Like Grimm's on a hit of acid. Or Lemony Snicket if he wasn't so flaccid. Just kidding, I love Snicket, i just wanted to make a rhyme. Maybe a bit like Miranda July's night terrors would be like after a night on magic mushrooms? Murakami inside Raoul Duke's body visiting a Hayao Miyazaki movie (say, Spirited Away)? Or really, I shouldn't bother with comparisons because Kelly Link is like nothing else I've ever read.

One day I will no longer be surprised that I like books that everyone hates and hate books that everyone likes. Though in this instance, I loved this book (like the majority of its readers) but my favourite story, Catskin, doesn't seem to be the universal favourite. I read it and was like, ho boy, I can't wait to get on goodreads and connect with all the other people who surely thought it was the best out of the collection. We can give each other high fives and eat sherbet whilst reminiscing over how fantastic our reading experience was. Not, so. Oh well. I thought Catskin was magnificent. But then I am partial to tales about witches and I do have a hairless cat companion and am now convinced there's some other type of creature inside. He is literally a cat shaped skin bag with a monkey's character. Escaped straight from Link's twisted mind.

I mean, how could you read this and not curl your toes up in glee?

 The dollhouse chimney had broken off and fallen on the ground. One of the cats picked it up and carried it away, like a souvenir. The cat carried the chimney into the woods and ate it, a mouthful at a time, and passed out of this story and into another one. It’s no concern of ours.

The Stone Animals was also great, made you feel funny in your toes and in your stomach. Or like you had toes in your stomach. I'm mentioning toes a lot but toes are weird and fitting for a review on a book such as this. I loved the opening story, The Hortlak.. Zombies living in a chasm, weirdo pyjamas, a convenience store, a girl with a car full of dog ghosts. Going by the keywords, you wouldn't think it'd be half as riveting or unsettling as it was. Trying to briefly explain any of these stories to someone who hasn't read this book is impossible. Go on, try to, I dare you. Better yet, just tell them to check out the story in full on her website here.

The only ones that left me a little flat were The Great Divorce and Lull however I suspect that that has a lot to do with the fact that a book that I have been itching to read arrived in the mail before I finished Magic and I just couldn't focus. So I'ma come back and read those ones again (properly) another time. This book is probably actually more a four star for me but I loved Catskin so much that it's going to have to be a five.

I imagine Link to be the Helena Bonham Carter of the lit world. All mismatched socks and curled toe witch boots, birds nest hair and a magic air. In my usual fashion, I'd typically say that I want to seduce and marry her, whisk her away to an island made of marshmallow and scattered with bunnies but she weirds me out a little too much. Maybe we could live in two separate houses, joined by a bridge (sort of how Bonham-Carter and Burton live). Or she can just stay right where she is and continue weaving her magic into her nightmarish fairytales.

The only thing I'm sure of is that I wouldn't want to be her child at story time before bed.
Profile Image for Mona.
483 reviews283 followers
May 21, 2015
Weird Modern Fairy Tales for Adults by a Writer with a Unique Voice

3.5 stars

My introduction to slipstream short story writer Kelly Link was her recently issued Get in Trouble. I got off on the wrong foot with that short story collection and did not finish it.

I'm glad I gave her another chance. I liked this collection, Magic for Beginners, a lot better, although it, too had some drawbacks.

The author's stories are extremely creative and her voice is totally unique (although there were some vague similarities with Karen Russell's short stories). She's a very talented writer with a good command of some convoluted material. Her characters have great names. She's got a wacky sense of humor and a great ear for dialogue, especially that of kids and teens. Some of the stories vaguely tie in with others. Her favorite themes include the relationships between the living and the dead, animals with human characteristics, witches, zombies, etc.

On the down side, her stories often seemed a bit too twee and cutesy. Her work could have benefited from a dollop of gravitas here and there, although I suppose then it wouldn't be Kelly Link.

Here's the rundown on the stories in this collection. I listened to the audio.

1. "The Faery Handbag". I think this might have been the best story in the book. Rebecca Lowman vocalized it really well. The narrator's grandmother, Zofia, claims to have been born in a country called Baldeziwurlekistan. Zofia tells the narrator the story of her fantastic handbag, which contains worlds inside it.

2. "The Hortlak". Wonderful and strange story about two guys who work in an all night store near Ausable Chasm (upstate NY near the Canadian border). Apparently the Chasm is a sort of borderland/conduit between the living and the dead. Some of their customers are Canadian zombies (who pass through the Chasm to get to the store?) They are trying to figure out what to sell to zombies. They have a female friend who works the overnight shift in an animal shelter and doesn't like the fact that she has to kill the dogs in the shelter. Kirby Hayborne read this story expertly.

3. "The Cannon". This was a strange story about a cannon and its relationships with dead and living people. The narrator is called Venus Shebby and used to be beautiful. Venus was fired from a cannon to a different country where she stayed. Her brother was fired from a cannon. I think I'd need to reread this as some of the details escaped me. Arthur Morey and Meera Simhan narrated, and the audio also features Lorna Raver

4."Stone Animals" is a wonderful tale about a family who move into a house (in upstate NY) that's overrun with rabbits and other strange creatures, including some stone statues that seem to come alive at night. Cassandra Campbell read the story quite well.

5."Catskin" delineates the death of a witch and the life of her "children" (stolen from humans) and the histories of some strange cats, including one called "The Witch's Revenge". This was like a demented version of a Grimm fairytale. Mark Bramhall was the reader.

6."Some Zombie Contingency Plans" A guy named Soap who just got out of jail for a minor art theft crashes a party at a suburban house. He meets Carly and her little brother, Leo. I liked this story. This one's read by Robbie Daymond

7."The Great Divorce". Alan Robley (living) and Lavvie Tyler (dead) are considering a divorce, as there are problems in a "mixed" marriage (between dead and living people). Lorna Raver narrates.

8."Magic for Beginners". This is a very meta story about a boy, Jeremy Mars, who lives in Plantagenet, Vermont, and his parents and a very popular internet TV show ("The Library") The story is meta because Jeremy is watching the show with his friends and relatives and at the same time (without knowing it) is a part of the show. Jeremy wants to save the show's main character, Fox. His mother, a librarian, and his dad, a horror novelist, have a fight and his mom, to get away from her husband, takes Jeremy on a road trip to Vegas. The dialogue, especially among the kids, was very realistic. But the story was way too long and it dragged. The audio narrator was Meera Simhan.

9."Lull". Good and very bizarre story. It's too convoluted to give a summary. Ed, who's separated from Susan, calls up a paid-by-the-minute "reader" at a party and she tells him a bizarre story about himself and Susan, involving the Devil, aliens, a cheerleader, and green Susan beer from which grow multiple Susans. Plus, the narrative runs backwards. A weird tour-de-force. Danny Campbell is an excellent narrator.
Profile Image for Celeste.
906 reviews2,342 followers
February 14, 2019
You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.

Something I’ve noticed over the course of my recent reading life is that, if you’re in the mood for weird, you should definitely look into short story collections. Some of the strangest and most memorable fiction I’ve read in the past five years or so have been short stories. This is not a format I thought I enjoyed, as I prefer to dig more deeply into a story than twenty pages or so can accommodate.

Honestly, I probably never would have given short stories the chance they deserved if it weren’t for the fact that I started writing my own, and the fact that Neil Gaiman reads his own collections in their audio format. For those of you who aren’t aware, Gaiman has an incredibly smooth, sultry, expressive reading voice, very similar to Benedict Cumberbatch in my opinion. Listening to him read his own work is a fantastic auditory treat.

Because I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short stories so much, I decided it was time to try out some other authors known for their short stories. After doing some research, I decided on Kelly Link, as she’s a big name in both the short story form and the literary fantasy and horror genres. I’m so glad I did. While I didn’t love every story in this collection, there were quite I few that I really enjoyed. Below I’ve given each story its own tiny review. Overall, I think they came together to create a strong collected work.

The Faery Handbag: 4.5 stars
This little tale was a great way to kick off this collection. It was grounded it reality but was also filled with a strangeness that was just taken for granted by the narrator. I haven’t been this enamored with a purse since reading about Hermione’s little TARDIS-like bag in the final Harry Potter book that was so much bigger on the inside. The handbag was the best type of magic, and it’s a lovely idea that will stick with me. There’s also a wildly memorable grandmother, a sweet love story, and an under appreciated use for Scrabble tiles. All in all, it was pretty close to perfect.

The Hortlak: 3.5 stars
This story really felt like it was pulled from the pages of a Gaiman collection. Not that it felt plagiarized, mind you, but the elements that made up the tale felt very reminiscent of his work. There’s a, odd little cast of characters, each obsessed with something random like pajamas, and a quiet apocalypse taking place in the background. You see, the entire story takes place in and around a little convenience store perched above a valley full of zombies. These aren’t violent zombies by any means, but they’re not ideal customers. My only complaint was that the characters, especially our perspective character, felt a bit hollow despite their interesting traits. There was an inability to connect that hindered my enjoyment.

The Cannon: 1 star
Good lord, why?! This was weird in the worst way. It was a jarring departure from the preceding tales, and hit me like a dissonant chord in a lovely song. Ick.

Stone Animals: 3.5 stars
There was something about this story that reminded me of Stephen King’s The Shining. A young family finds and moves into a new home, and it seems like the fulfillment of their dreams. But things start feeling haunted. Not the house itself, but things the family brought with them. It’s super weird. Things like a television and an alarm clock and a bathrobe, a purse and a toothbrush and a cat, suddenly inspire deep levels of discomfort. And it seems like the stone rabbits outside the door might have something to do with that, and with the oddly high numbers of rabbits camping out on their lawn. Things get weirder from there. While the family was fun and the haunted items were an interesting twist, the ending lost me. I still have no idea what actually happened.

Catskin: 4 stars
This tale felt like a throwback to fairytales, and I would have been completely unsurprised to find this story in a collection from Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm. The views on witches and cats portrayed here were absolutely fascinating. Evidently there’s no such thing as a cat; they are all humans sewn into catsuits by witches. The idea that witches steal children because they cannot have their own, that their wombs birth houses instead of humans, was such an interesting idea. And beware of a witch scorned, because she will stop at nothing to get her revenge. The only downside to this story for me was that it was honestly kind of gross in places.

Some Zombie Contingency Plans: 4.5 stars
Another story that reminded me of Gaiman. Soap is such a sweet but enigmatic character, who seems to have no true grip on his identity. He becomes whoever others think he is to a certain extent. His current hobby of choice is party crashing, and this story takes places at just such a party. Learning about his backstory was fun, and I found the painting he keeps with him incredibly interesting. His need to create contingency plans for any and every situation, especially in regards to zombies, was endearing. I’m still a bit baffled by the ending, but by this point I’m starting to see a pattern with Link’s storytelling decisions. A short story stays with you longer if the ending is either open-ended or vague, and Link capitalizes on this.

The Great Divorce: 3 stars
“There once was a man whose wife was dead. She was dead when he fell in love with her…” How’s that for an opener? This was another clever concept on Link’s part. Imagine a world where the living become enamored with the idea of the dead, so much so that they marry then and have little ghost babies. The downside? The living still can’t see the dead. Their marriages rely completely on mediums, who now find themselves serving as therapists and marital counselors. It’s a bizarre idea, and it was interesting to see play out. But here again we have no real depth the the characters. This story reminded me of George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which is a wildly popular novel that just didn’t really work for me. I can see this story in that same light; I appreciate it, but it’s not for me.

Magic For Beginners: 5 stars
I think this was my favorite story in the collection. I felt like I truly got to know Jeremy and his friends and parents, which immediately won me over. Jeremy Mars is a delightfully quirky teenage boy, and his friends and family are just as endearingly weird. I absolutely love the idea of the television show around which this story is based. The Library is a show that has no ties to a network, and no set day or time on which it airs. Fans have to remain constantly vigilant in order to find episodes when they air and alert their fellow fans. The show is such an interesting concept. It takes place entirely inside a library, but said library is mind-bendingly vast, with entire lakes and mountains and ecosystems housed within its various floors. In the first paragraph of the story, Link states that The Library “you’ve never seen on TV, but I bet you wish you had.” I desperately wish this show was real, and that I could watch and dissect episodes with Jeremy and his friends.

Lull: 4.5 stars
I’ve never read anything else quite like Lull. It’s a Russian nesting doll of a tale, a story within a story within a story, with the innermost story tying directly back into the outermost. It’s a fever dream, and I couldn’t stop reading it. We start with a group of friends playing poker and end with a Scheherazade worthy feat of storytelling. It’s in turn charming and disturbing, maudlin and fun. There was one segment of the story where time went backwards, from death to birth, and it provided me with some deeply philosophical pondering.

Overall, I thought this was a strong collection and a great introduction to the work of Kelly Link. There was only one story that I really disliked, and I enjoyed far more than I didn’t. If you like your fiction weird or literary or bite-sized or all of the above, I highly suggest giving this collection a try.
Profile Image for Trish.
433 reviews25 followers
December 6, 2007
Link garners effusive praise from Jonathan Lethem, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, Peter Straub, Alice Sebold, et al. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don't. Some of her stories I enjoy, some of them I don't.

For example, take the two stories in this collection that I had read previously: Catskin and Stone Animals, both of which I read in McSweeney's. I liked Catskin slightly more the second time around, but it still rates a thumbs down. It's the tale of a witch and her three children and her revenge. Strange things happen, and then other strange things happen, and in the end more strange things happen. I think because it's not grounded in any kind of reality that I can recognize, I just couldn't invest in the characters. There's the crazy witch who dies and becomes a cat, and her devoted son, who she dresses in a cat skin, and they kill the witch who poisoned her and they turn his children back into cats, and probably drown them. In short: Many cats are harmed in the course of the story.

Then there's Stone Animals, which I liked very much the first time around and continued to like very much on a second reading. Perhaps because it is grounded in a reality I recognize. A family moves to a house in the country that is reputed to be haunted. The father is always away, still working in the city. The very pregnant mother grows obsessed with painting the rooms of the house, even dreaming of drinking paint. The daughter sleepwalks. The son is afraid of the dark and of his father's beard. Everyone in the house senses things that are wrong, off ... haunted? First small things, like a toothbrush. But then the family cat. And then the daughter believes her brother is haunted. The yard is infested with rabbits. The father dreams that there are skyscrapers on the lawn and that his house continues down, down, down deep into the earth. Things are strange, but not strange enough to force them to take any drastic action. Life just continues, semi-normal but unsettlingly off-kilter.

And my favorite part of the story is something entirely un-supernatural. The parents' marriage has been rocky. The father is a problem-solver, something of a workaholic, always on the job "putting out fires." So his wife decides that she needs to give him a problem to solve. She confesses to an affair that she didn't have; she submits to marriage counseling to work on a problem that doesn't exist. This reinvigorates the marriage for a time, but now the move to the country has destabilized things. Her husband is always at work, long hours, weekends spent in the city. There are neighbors who think he doesn't exist. She's already played her strongest hand; this time, if the relationship is going to be saved, he'll have to be the one to save it.

Those two stories sort of encapsulate my feelings about Link. I like the stories that incorporate elements of the surreal or supernatural into a recognizable reality. The stories that are entirely strange and supernatural just don't appeal to me.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
February 2, 2013
You may officially put me down as a Kelly Link fan.

I understand why her writing might not be to everyone's taste. One of the blurbs on this books describes it as 'elliptical' - yes. She comes at ideas sideways and leaves things unfinished, ambiguous, to be considered. It can be frustrating. But at the same time, I love it.

Two of the stories here overlap with those in 'Pretty Monsters.' So this was my third time reading 'The Faery Handbag' (I'll be happy to read it some more times, too), and my second reading 'Magic for Beginners.'

Also in this collection:

The Hortlak - A young man lives with his manager in the all-night convenience store where they both work. His ennui-filled existence centers around dealing with zombie customers and crushing on the animal shelter worker who stops by regularly.

The Cannon - A short piece, in the form of an interview, with Venus Shebby, who performed being fired out of cannons... and her reminiscences about the strange land where she was shot to.

Stone Animals - A 'domestic gothic' haunted house story. With a crumbling marriage, crumbling statues, and many, many spooky rabbits.

Catskin - A weird and disturbing fairy-tale mashup. Familiar elements combine in unsuspected ways with Freudian undertones. No happy ending here, as we're warned, right off the bat.

Some Zombie Contingency Plans - The seemingly innocuous actions of a party-crasher are underlaid with a masterfully-sewn thread of menace.

The Great Divorce - It's become trendy to marry the dead. Mediums, understandably, reach a new height in popularity, because the practicalities of communicating with a ghostly spouse are, naturally innumerable. And that's before you even take the children into consideration...

Lull - A Russian doll of a story, or stories... nested, yet intersecting. Impressive. And there are aliens.
Profile Image for Veronika Sebechlebská.
381 reviews128 followers
February 9, 2021
Pri čítaní tejto knižky som si neraz spomenula na nášho fyzikára, ktorý nás v štvrtáku nútil počítať príklady typu, že akú najväčšiu dĺžku môže mať železný drôt, aby sa nepretrhol pôsobením vlastnej tiaže a, pre fajnšmekrov, ako sa bude v závislosti od jeho naťahovania meniť normálové napätie. Sakra, prečo toto už dávno neprebrala literárna veda? Úvod do kompozičnej dĺžkológie by mal byť povinným predmetom na každej katedre editorstva a študent, ktorý by nevedel z hlavy vypočítať, ako sa v závislosti od hutnosti štýlu zmení napätie príbehu a vnútorná súdržnosť textu, keď doň vsuniete dvojstranové prerozprávanie obsahu sna vedľajšej postavy, by automaticky letel!

Budúci editori fantastiky by si potom mohli vybrať voliteľné predmety ako Únosnosť technických opisov v Space operách alebo, v súčasnosti vychytenú, Dĺžkológiu fantasy ság
Ukážková otázka záverečného testu:
1) Vypočítajte, aká dlhá bude Pieseň ľadu a ohňa v momente, keď GRRMartinovi praskne aorta v hrudi (povolená odchýlka ±150 strán)

Grafickým editorom by zas boli venované praktickejšie kurzy zaoberajúce sa otázkami optimalizácie veľkosti knihy s prihliadnutím na možnosti písma
Typická otázka záverečného testu:
1)Dokedy sa dá zmenšovať font, aby cieľovému čitateľovi* nepraskla cievka v oku
2)Dokedy sa môže zväčšovať formát knihy, aby cieľovému čitateľovi* pri jej dvíhaní neluplo v krížoch.
*Vypočítajte pre cieľového čitateľa:
a) nového Kotletu
b)knihy s názvom Právo na lásku
c)ľubovoľnej YA knihy

Skutočným postrachom každého študenta by ale bol trojsemestrálny kurz Pokročilej dĺžkológie I, II a III, ktorý by sa venoval dĺžkologickým špecifikám v podmienkach magickému realizmu, surrealizmu a podivna. Pri nesmierne náročných výpočtoch v rámci týchto subžánrov totiž treba mať neustále na pamäti tendenciu autorov spriadať snové príbehy, ktoré sú jemné a neuchopiteľné ako pavučiny. A pavučiny, ako všetci vieme, sú pevnejšie než oceľ a tvrdšie než kevlar a pritom ich môžte natiahnuť aj do niekoľkonásobnej dĺžky a stále sa nepretrhnú. Väčšina študentov by preto pohorela už na prvej otázke záverečného testu, ktorá by znela asi takto:

1) Ako dlho môže Kelly Linková písať o mačacích kožúškoch, kým Veronike prasknú nervy?
(¡oʞʇáɹʞ :ďǝʌodpO)
Profile Image for Fred.
100 reviews25 followers
June 5, 2007
Here's the review from my twice-yearly zine (October '06). I think I preferred Link's debut short story collection, Stranger Things Happen, but I definitely appreciate what she's aiming for her. Nobody writes stories quite like hers:

Kelly Link is herself no stranger to the bizarre,
or even to charges of sometimes wading too deep
into its waters for some readers’ taste.

In a recent missive to members of her online
writing workshop, Link encouraged writers to
“submit more ambitious work....stories and characters
and narrative twists that only you are strange enough
to write.”

Link has clearly taken this advice to heart, and
then some. The stories that she and husband Gavin
Grant select regularly for Lady Churchill’s Rosebud
Wristlet, their twice yearly zine, as well those chosen
for the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series, which the
couple have co-edited with Ellen Datlow since
2004—to say nothing of Trampoline, the 2003
anthology Link edited by herself—all of these reveal a
penchant for the interestingly odd, the adventurous
and ambitious short story.

But this is nowhere more evident than in Link’s
own short stories, most recently collected in the
delightful Magic for Beginners (2005, Small Beer Press).
These are stories that toy with expectations, subvert
what we think we know to reveal something
fundamentally more unusual and intriguing, more
sinister or sublime, at the core.

These stories often do have the feel of dreams to
them—which of course is to say the bizarre, but not
simply for its own sake. The strange and unexpected
twists these stories sometimes take, the playfulness
that Link displays with her words, the worlds she
builds that are not quite our own—these are not an
attempt to undermine reality, but to clarify it, to
better understand and reveal the weird magic at
reality’s heart. These have the feel not just of images,
but of unsettling truths. Link’s stories are as
frightening, and as funny, and as dazzling as any
lingering dream.
Profile Image for Jen.
247 reviews148 followers
November 15, 2008
I read one short story by Kelly Link in an anthology and knew that she was magical. I had to have more, so I stole my man's copy of Magic for Beginners and read through it in one sitting. The realm of the fantastic is usually not my thing, but well-written creative pieces are and this book definitely qualifies. "Stone Animals" in this collection is usually picked as the stand-out piece, and it surely deserves to be so (who else could make paint licking sound so right?), but there are others that are just as wonderfully tweaked. The author encourages an irresistible respect for the bizarre and definitely has a charming "off-the-beaten-path" approach to character development, not unlike some French movies that have found mainstream success (Amelie, for one). I know likening books to movies costs cool points, but I am willing to lose a few if it helps some readers find their way to this book.

It must take some skill to turn out worlds in which shaman-priestesses, highly malevolent rabbits, and convenience store zombies abide, but she manages.

On a side note: I heard her read last winter and was not disappointed- her straight reading of her quirky slipstream and funky tights only cemented the notion that she deserved a spot on my "silver shelf".

Profile Image for Agustina de Diego .
Author 2 books304 followers
January 15, 2022
Hace mucho que no leía un libro de 400 páginas en un día y mucho menos uno de cuentos que suelo leer de forma pausada y a mis tiempos.

Me gustó como estas historias desafían tu atención, te marean, te dan vueltas, te muestras múltiples historias simultáneas y los finales nunca son lo que estás esperando.

Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,005 followers
Want to read
August 28, 2020
I've read the titular story twice -- once years ago in an anthology, before Link's name was familiar to me, and then again recently in Other Worlds Than These. It is, briefly, about some teens watching a tv serial about a magical library. The story is very good, but what I really want is to see the show that they're watching. Or to actually live in The Library.

And I've read The Faery Handbag which is in the anthology The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm and also available free at the Small Beer Press site.

I think I've read some other stories as well.
I guess I should probably get the book.
Profile Image for Rachel (Kalanadi).
722 reviews1,400 followers
July 27, 2017
I enjoyed the first story, "The Faery Handbag", and then it went downhill from there. This "slipstream fiction" is simply not for me. It read like complete nonsense and I was too bored to want to try harder to understand it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 108 books728 followers
July 20, 2009
For some reason, I assumed this was a young adult title; I think it was the cover, or possibly the name.
Link's characters are for the most part grotesques, like those of Sherwood Anderson and Miranda July (but way better than July), only infused with a bit of magic. The stories are full of strange people doing normal things in strange places, or normal people doing strange things in strange places, or some other variation. There are some wonderful, bizarre descriptions and the little illustrations add to the oddness. I love love love the way that little snippets of stories find their way into the thoughts or dialogue of characters of other stories, like echoes; it emphasizes a certain haziness of reality, as if one character might just have been dreamt up by another, rather than by the author. She's just a conduit, transcribing the dreams of dreams of fictional television shows watched by fictional people.
Profile Image for Evelina | AvalinahsBooks.
859 reviews440 followers
Shelved as 'dnf-shelf-of-shame'
July 30, 2020
How I read this: freebie

DNF @ 24%

What did I just read? I feel like every short story collection I read puts me farther and farther away from short story collections in general. They're just too bizzare and in the end I have no idea what it was even about because you have to comb for meaning as if you're looking for a needle in a haystack.

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Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,023 reviews4,065 followers
April 1, 2011
A canny short story writer with a wholly unique vocabulary, range and personality. The closest touchstone in history would be Donald Barthelme, though Link furthers this ironical postmodern format to incorporate fables, fantasies and fairytales into her cleverly conceived mini-epics. It's hypetacular.
Profile Image for Boden Steiner.
34 reviews4 followers
June 2, 2010
A short story by Kelly Link is a suicide snow cone that tastes like the best thing you never knew you could have.

Turning the pages of Magic for Beginners, you are never quite sure what you will get, but after one or two stories you quickly realize that this random unknowing is the one constant, and what you quickly learn to love about a Kelly Link story. You welcome the jump, allowing the rabbit hole door to lock behind you, even hoping that it does. When I say rabbit hole, I really mean the secret blanket-fort in the living room of Kelly Link's imagination, the one that tunnels under the kitchen to a place that you never knew existed --at least not in most fiction.

It's a varied tour. Link plays guide and storyteller with an acrobatic confidence, creating stories both humorous and slyly sage, imagination gymnastics that cartwheels upon itself, a mature reincarnation of Captain Kangaroo telling Kipling's "Just So" stories, only different. She may type them out for the sake of publishing, but it's quite possible that she simply has them dictated as they form in her head, maybe around a camp fire somewhere inside the blanket-fort. Perhaps after a few drinks. Probably.

That storytelling voice is the stage star of the secret show, but all of the characters are there with you. They would have to be -- they are real after all, certainly real after reading. They are my friends --I think so anyway. If Kelly Link told me so, I'd believe her. That is the magic trick. You can see for yourself if you watch closely.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
May 8, 2009
It's somewhat unfair to put this as read, since I haven't read all the stories in it. But I'd read enough to know that it wasn't really my cup of tea. That's entirely a subjective reaction and could be as much due to what my expectations were. It's like putting an olive in your mouth thinking that it's a grape - the shock puts you off even if the olive is perfectly good for what it is.

When I bought this, it was shelved under the Fantasy section. I was expecting Fantasy a la Charles de Lint and what I got was suburban angst a la John Updike. So in "Stone Rabbits" our unhappy couple moving into the suburbs finds misery typified by their possessions becoming subtly haunted. The zombies that visit the convenience store in "The Hortlak" are more a not-so-subtle critique of the misery of a deadening suburban life.

The most fantastic of the stories is "Catskin" where an orphaned boy, son to an assassinated witch, dons an unconvincing cat costume and goes about seeking revenge for his mother's murder. Here we are well into Angela Carter territory and the elements of sexual transgression and growing up take on fairy tale elements, albeit seen through a warped lens.

I see from the reviews below that many liked it. I didn't, but don't let that put you off if this sounds like something you'd enjoy. Just don't expect Charles de Lint. :-)
Author 5 books43 followers
May 21, 2008
Nine short stories of magical realism, stories that shift effortlessly from fairy-tale mode to a much more naturalistic mode to surreal absurdity.

The thing about these stories--the frustrating, beautiful thing--is that they are not merely hard to understand. They resist all efforts to understand them. They hint at the feeling that, oh, if only you were smart enough, if only you spent enough time decoding the symbolism and the turns of phrase, everything would suddenly become bright-clear and revelatory, and then they dismiss that idea--directly or more subtly. These are stories about the ways in which stories satisfy or don't satisfy, make you comfortable or uncomfortable, and it's no surprise that the stories themselves are unsatisfactory and uncomfortable. And it's not even a bad thing.

I don't know any other writer who evokes so well the way I feel about stories, a mix of absurd devotion and intense suspicion of that devotion. Kurt Vonnegut, perhaps. And they evoke, too, the absurdity and magic and meaningfulness and meaninglessness of contemporary life, in a way that doesn't feel bleak or depressing--Link makes me feel like both her stories, and the world, are complicated, weird, and incomprehensible, but they aren't things that need to be understood.
Profile Image for Nancy.
Author 32 books1,078 followers
August 17, 2008
I can't give Magic For Beginners a rating, because it's simply a book that wasn't "for me." It's not fantasy; it's magic realism, and personally, I need some recognizable logic and structure in fiction. Kelly Link is a finely skilled writer, and there's many a delightful turn of phrase, but the complete picture of each story was unsatisfying. However, I don't care for Gabriel Garcia Marquez either, and while I couldn't even finish A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, I did feel driven to read all the stories in this book. Maybe I'll return to it and try again in a few years.
Profile Image for Jessica Haider.
1,791 reviews241 followers
October 12, 2020
Magic for Beginners is a fun, quirky and clever collection of short stories from Kelly Link. These stories are the perfect light entry into spooky Halloween since they have a touch of the supernatural. We have a story about zombies that is not a "zombie story" but rather a story about a guy's zombie contingency plan. A story about ghosts that is not a "ghost story" but is a story about living people who are married to ghosts. And so on.

I also loved that the first story was locally set and made mention of The Garment District, which is a local store to get all kinds of second hand clothing.

What to listen to while reading...
Meet Me in the Woods by Lord Huron
Little Dark Age by MGMT
Red Rabbits by The Shins
Conversation 16 by The National
Little Ghost by The White Stripes
Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners
Tweeter and The Monkey Man by Traveling Wilburys
I Died so I Could Haunt You by Stars
They are Night Zombies! They are Neighbors!! by Sufjan Stevens
Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones
Profile Image for Noah Soudrette.
503 reviews40 followers
September 29, 2009
The first story is called "The Faery Handbag" is a tale about a girl's grandmother and her magical handbag. The whole thing is a bit of an obvious allegory for life, particularly the life of women and elders. Still, it's very bittersweet and a short interesting intro to the collection.

The second story is called "The Hortlak" and is really both brilliant and stupid. The whole thing is a bizarre expressionist dream about working retail and loving a woman. I feel very close to this story. It's reason enough to pick up this book.

The third story is called "The Cannon" and is a nonsensical story that reminded me a great deal of Baron Munchhausen. I admit to liking the Q&A format, but on the whole, it's totally disposable.

The fourth story, "Stone Animals" has a lot of creepy potential but ends up being a chore to get through. Here, Link's cleverness and quirkiness really hamper the story. The whole thing screams "look how clever and quirky I am" not, "look at these characters and this fascinating story". This one was a real lost opportunity. If only Link would stop worrying about seeming clever.

The fifth story is called "Catskin" and is quite good. It's the most fantasy/Grimm's fairy tale in the book so far. It is very dark but also very touching in a way and seems to deal with the relationship between mothers and sons (in this case a witch and her son). I ended up feeling quite sorrowful for both parties.

The sixth story is called,"Some Zombie Contingency Plans" and while I thought this would be a fun story, at first all I could feel is that it was rambling on way too much. This story's biggest strength is its ending, which came as a general surprise to me and was quite chilling, especially for a story that I thought was either going to be romantic of sad, or fun.

The seventh story, "The Great Divorce" has some amusing ideas about the dead interacting with the living, but in the end the story is mostly fluff and doesn't really contribute anything.

Story eight, "Magic for Beginners" is made all the more frustrating by having greatness in its sights, and failing to capitalize on that opportunity. The characters here are great, and the fantastical elements aren't all that bad, but I couldn't help feel there's simply no satisfactory ending provided, and I don't really feel like digging for a subtler one.

The last story, "Lull" I really couldn't get through. I took four tries at trying to finish it but was just plain disgusted, as it is the culmination of everything I think is wrong with this book. Link's focus on being "clever" and what she imagines as "literary" only hinder her excellent writing ability and end up producing a story that can only be satisfying to a reader with a similarly infantile misconception of writing.

To sum up. Kelly Link has a great technical writing ability and a great imagination. Sadly, this is all lost to a strong vein of snobbish literary twaddle. So called "magical realism" is a load of dingo's kidneys and is really just fantasy writing by people who fear the nerd connotations on such a categorization.

Profile Image for Nicholas Kaufmann.
Author 34 books184 followers
May 23, 2015
All the stories in Link's second collection are five-star stories. Her fiction is surreal, whimsical, fantastical, childlike in many ways, and yet it often goes to darker places than you'd expect. Put simply, it's brain food. Her stories light up parts of your brain that don't normally get lit up. On top of that, she makes it look so effortless with flawless prose and perfect turns of phrase.

However, reading an entire collection of her stories can be an overwhelming feast, or at least it was for this reader. Back to back, the stories meld together too easily and the concepts and tropes that Link frequently draws upon become more noticeable: animals as totems, magical bags that hold anything and everything, people who are dead but don't behave dead, characters with names that aren't names like Small and Soap and Germ and Alibi, and third-person POVs that become narrators who speak directly to the reader. Not that these are bad things. Link's stories never bore, but read all together they can become thematically repetitive, which steals some of their magic.

Still, Link is in a league of her own and these stories are well worth your time and attention. My favorite is probably the title story, "Magic for Beginners," but choosing a favorite from among these gems is a difficult task and one that's likely to change every time I think about this stellar collection.
Profile Image for Madeline.
897 reviews178 followers
March 9, 2015
Some of these stories are cool, but then the rest of them are like "What if Borges shopped at Modcloth?"

I like both those things, but. Not here, I guess? I even made a point of reading the stories one by one, rather than all at once. (I did try reading them all at once, but then I got a sour taste in my mouth.)

The craftsmanship is, I think, rather good. And the stories I did like - "Faery Handbag," "Some Zombie Contingency Plans," and "Magic for Beginners" - were at least longish (although "Magic for Beginners" was probably too long) and interesting. And I guess that's about half the book.

I wonder if I would have liked the collection more if more of the stories had not been about men?
Profile Image for Joel.
444 reviews4 followers
May 25, 2013
The Faery Handbag
A young woman loses a handbag her grandmother had given her that contains a magical village within it. I liked it, but the first person character was somewhat hard to nail down; the protagonist was somewhat vaguely sketched. Whether by intention or accident, I can't say, but I found it distracting. 3/5

The Hortlak
This is a strange story that captivated me in spite of its weirdness. The world it describes is horrifying and the story goes nowhere, and yet I found myself hoping that the central character would find the escape he craved. 4/5

The Canon
Almost more of a poem than a story, The Canon is framed as a series of questions whose answers almost make perfect nonsense. 3/5

Stone Animals
Blending the lines between dream, reality, psychosis, and just plain, oddity, this story tells the tale of a family trying to come to terms with a haunted house. 3/5

Although I enjoyed this story, it was hard at times to avoid the feeling that there was weirdness here just for the sake of being weird, that the story was a little conventional if one disregarded a few of the more outlandish sentences. Still, it's a story about witches and cats and houses and how they're all really kind of the same thing. 4/5

Some Zombie Contingency Plans
Given that this is a collection of odd, magical realist stories where nothing makes sense and everything means something else, you'd think a twist ending would be a little easier to spot. But no. This stories isn't about zombies as much as it is what their attacks leave behind. 4/5

The Great Divorce
More than a little bittersweet, the story takes as its premise that the living can, and do, interact with the dead. What happens then, when a dead woman and a yet living man decide to get divorced? 5/5

Magic for Beginners
This is easily my favorite story in the collection; it reads like a more somber Daniel Pinkwater with that same sense of odd rightness that lurks just below the everyday wrongness of mundanity, something we could reach if we can just get hold of it the right way. It's the story of a boy named Jeremy who drives to Las Vegas with his mother and it's the story of a boy who's just discovering that the girls who are his friends could be so much more than that. And it's the story of a boy who saves a fox without ever knowing if he succeeded. 5/5

Lull is a story within a story within a story and is more about the nature of stories and how we can change them from within than it is about the actual story. 4/5
Profile Image for Nicole.
194 reviews
January 24, 2009
The stories in this book ooze creativity and imagination, which I'm generally a sucker for. There's a risk, though, in straying too far from traditional lines, in that the stories still have to connect for the reader on some level strongly enough for us to be willing to let go of the fact that we're being asked to take this bizarre world at face value.

For all of the creative elements, many of them very well-rendered (zombies really are vastly under-utilized in contemporary fiction, and the village inside the purse is an image that will stay with me for a long time), I am never quite able to take these worlds seriously enough to care about what happens in them. In large part, I think this is due to the narrative tone, and to the narrator herself, who pipes up in the first person every so often apropos of nothing, effectively drawing my attention away from the action/interest of the story and wondering what I missed/when the narrator became an actual character in the tale. Most of the time, she hasn't, and is just speaking up to assert her presence between the reader and the characters, which may serve a better purpose for some readers but for me just added another layer of distance between me and this world I'm being asked to care about, effectively making me care about it less.

There are moments when Link finds a successful blend of the familiar and the fantastical. Too much of the time in these stories, though, I find myself unable to relate to either the characters or the worlds they exist in.

Profile Image for Anton.
59 reviews19 followers
January 28, 2014
This book is like the literary equivalent of a road trip. Like Kelly Link thought about getting in her car and driving somewhere but had no idea where she wanted to go, but knew vaguely what she wanted to see. Or maybe it's like she was lying asleep in her bed plugged into something that transcribed her dreams onto paper as she slept and turned them into short stories. Or it could even be like those old Magic Eye books where if you're impatient all you see is a jumble of colours and nonsense and abstraction but if you relax into it and let go, shapes and outlines and form begin to make themselves apparent.
You know when you dream and sometimes you're in this place that may be the house you grew up in or may be your grandmother's home but it looks nothing like these actual places as they existed, but somehow you know that they are these places anyway? That's what this collection is like. You follow the stories and things happen but they don't have any logic and you kind of think what is the point but the dream and the journey is fun and thrilling anyway.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
March 7, 2015
-Otro soplo de aires nuevos.-

Género. Relatos.

Lo que nos cuenta. Recopilación de relatos (aunque la palabra “cuentos” podría ser mucho más precisa en este caso) con bastantes premios importantes y escritos en la década transcurrida entre 1998 y 2008, que ofrecen fantasía de una clase muy especial y que nos llevaran a conocer un bolso de mujer muy particular, una serie de televisión de culto y sus seguidores, diferentes relaciones entre personas y zapatos, las consecuencias de un par de mudanzas y las actividades de una joven detective, entre otras cosas. Esta edición española contiene trabajos incluidos en dos recopilaciones originales diferentes de la autora.

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