three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
By: 
Kelly Link
user_rating: 
0

A-MagicBeginnersIn nine surreal stories, Link blends magic, humor, and suffering, and draws fine lines between fantasy and reality. "Stone Animals" features a couple that moves to the country—only to find some quite strange rabbits inhabiting—or guarding?—their lawn. In "The Faery Handbag," a group of refugees lives inside a handbag. The title story draws eerie parallels between teenagers’ lives and a TV fantasy show. In other tales, the devil and a cheerleader hit it off, a zombie frequents an all-night convenience store, and a lonely ex-convict crashes a suburban party. Each story, which combines the normal and familiar with the surreal and fantastical, offers unique perspectives on human—and not-so-human—life.
Small Beer Press. 273 pages. $24. ISBN: 1931520151

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Elliptical and dreamlike, Link’s stories fold in on themselves with playful, self-referential glee. . . . Even at its creepiest, Link’s world is one to savor." Missy Schwartz

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[E]ven when I didn’t know what to make of her stories, I couldn’t put them out of my mind. That sort of resonance, that lingering, haunting effect, is the product of real magic, and Kelly Link is no doubt a sorceress to be reckoned with." Michael Knight

Village Voice 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In a world of zombies, aliens, and ghost-dogs, domestic dissolution is seemingly still the problem of the times, pushing a few of the stories Anne Tyler-ward. . . . Though sometimes we’re left on one side of the liminal space, mostly the otherworldly nostalgia creeps closer to revolution." Phyllis Fong

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Each of [the nine tales] could not be mistaken for anyone else’s work. . . . Full of meta-fictional tricks, Link’s fantasy stories defy easy interpretation, and often their maddening obliquity is offset only by their genial quirkiness and weird humor." Michael Berry

Critical Summary

The stories-within-stories feel of Magic for Beginners, not to mention its absurdist magical realism, left some critics feeling alienated. Nor could many place Link (Stranger Things Happen) in a precise literary niche. Yet all agree that Link’s imagination is a plausible, even powerful, force. Even when critics admitted that allusions and postmodern ploys went swiftly over their heads, no one forgot a single story. And, if the weird, creepy, and unbelievable predominate, Link pens characters and scenes so sweetly ("Anne Tyler-ward," notes the Village Voice) that readers won’t mind the aliens, ghost-dogs, and zombies. Link’s collection may defy simple interpretation, but it also challenges readers to decipher for themselves what is real . . . and what is not.