Book Review: Magic for Beginners

Book Review: Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link

After finally putting down the borrowed copy of Magic for Beginners which I’d been reading on and off for the past week, I can make two definitive statements:

1)      Kelly Link is a very gifted writer.

2)      I suck at short stories.

I really gave it my all, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to read all eight stories in this collection. I managed to get through six (although for two, my reading might better be described as skimming). If you read my blog post from a few days ago (see it here), you’ll know that I pick up short story collections rarely and reluctantly, but in this case, I’d heard enough high praise for Kelly Link to decide to give it a go.

I absolutely loved the first story in the collection, “The Fairy Handbag”, narrated by a teen girl whose recently deceased, oddball grandmother has appointed her the guardian of a magical handbag. According to Grandmother Zofia, the people in her little village of Baldesziwurlekistan all picked up and moved into the handbag hundreds of years ago in order to escape a terrible invasion, and have lived there happily ever since. “The Fairy Handbag” is weird and wonderful, and I was thoroughly enchanted.

Also very good was “The Stone Animals”, about a family who leaves Manhattan and moves into a country home upstate, only to discover that, slowly but surely, all of their possessions have become haunted. I’m not sure what any of it actually meant, but I love some of the imagery used, especially this brief glimpse of the pregnant wife who can’t stop painting and repainting the rooms in the house:

He found Catherine standing on a ladder in the kitchen, one foot resting on the sink. She was wearing her gas mask, a black cotton sports bra, and a pair of black sweatpants rolled down so he could see she wasn’t wearing any underwear. Her stomach stuck out so far, she had to hold her arms at a funny angle to run the roller up and down the wall in front of her.

The story entitled “Magic for Beginners”, equally weird and oddly touching, is the tale of a fifteen-year-old boy and his friends who are obsessed with a mysterious TV show called The Library. Or is this story about characters on a TV show called The Library who are obsessed with a TV show called The Library? At one point, main character Jeremy wonders “about what kind of television shows the characters in television shows watch.” Kind of made my head spin.

Kelly Link’s writing is lyrical and full of unconventional images and similes. Just two of the many that made me smile:

He feels like a tennis ball in a game where the tennis players love him very, very much, even while they lob and smash and send him back and forth, back and forth.

And…

The disco ball spins and spins. It makes Jeremy feel kind of carsick and also as if he has sparkly, disco leprosy.

Kelly Link has great talent, and I truly enjoyed the stories I read. The fact that I couldn’t get through all of them certainly has more to do with me as a reader rather than with the quality of the book. If you enjoy short stories, and get a kick out of worlds weird and twisted, I’d definitely suggest giving this collection a whirl.

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