The New York Times
Magic for Beginners: Storiesby Kelly Link, Shelley Jackson
Perfect for readers of George Saunders, Karen Russell, Neil Gaiman, and Aimee Bender, Magic for Beginners is an exquisite, dreamlike dispatch from a virtuoso storyteller who can do seemingly anything. Kelly Link reconstructs modern life through an intoxicating prism, conjuring up unforgettable worlds with humor and humanity. These stories are at once/i>/i>… See more details below
Perfect for readers of George Saunders, Karen Russell, Neil Gaiman, and Aimee Bender, Magic for Beginners is an exquisite, dreamlike dispatch from a virtuoso storyteller who can do seemingly anything. Kelly Link reconstructs modern life through an intoxicating prism, conjuring up unforgettable worlds with humor and humanity. These stories are at once ingenious and deeply moving. They leave the reader astonished and exhilarated.
Includes an exclusive conversation between Kelly Link and Joe Hill
Praise for Magic for Beginners
“A sorceress to be reckoned with.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Kelly] Link’s stories . . . play in a place few writers go, a netherworld between literature and fantasy, Alice Munro and J. K. Rowling, and Link finds truths there that most authors wouldn’t dare touch.”—Lev Grossman, Time
“She is unique and should be declared a national treasure.”—Neil Gaiman
“Funny, scary, surprising and powerfully moving within the span of a single story or even a single sentence.”—Karen Russell, The Miami Herald
“This is what certain readers live for: fiction that makes the world instead of merely mimicking it.”—Audrey Niffenegger
“[These] exquisite stories mix the aggravations and epiphanies of everyday life with the stuff that legends, dreams and nightmares are made of.”—Laura Miller, Salon, Best Books of the Decade
“A major talent . . . Like George Saunders, [Link] can’t dismiss the hidden things that tap on our windows at night.”—The Boston Globe
“The most darkly playful voice in American fiction.”—Michael Chabon
“I think she is the most impressive writer of her generation.”—Peter Straub
“Link’s world is one to savor. [Grade:] A”—Entertainment Weekly
“Intricate, wildly imaginative and totally wonderful . . . will fill you with awe and joy.”—NPR
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The New York Times
"One of current fiction's little-known treasures, [Link] spins her stories in such charming, matter-of-fact tones that you almost don't realize you're entering a hybrid world that's part Muggle and part magic . . . Link casts her spells like an expert."Time
"A potent blend of horror and magic realism and postmodern absurdism . . . [Link’s] stories combine the everyday with the bizarre to powerful effect . . .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."The New York Times Book Review
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Random House
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 3 MB
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from "The Faery Handbag"
I used to go to thrift stores with my friends. We’d take the train into Boston, and go to The Garment District, which is this huge vintage clothing warehouse. Everything is arranged by color, and somehow that makes all of the clothes beautiful. It’s kind of like if you went through the wardrobe in the Narnia books, only instead of finding Aslan and the White Witch and horrible Eustace, you found this magic clothing world–instead of talking animals, there were feather boas and wedding dresses and bowling shoes, and paisley shirts and Doc Martens and everything hung up on racks so that first you have black dresses, all together, like the world’s largest indoor funeral, and then blue dresses–all the blues you can imagine–and then red dresses and so on. Pink-reds and orangey reds and purple-reds and exit-light reds and candy reds. Sometimes I would close my eyes and Natasha and Natalie and Jake would drag me over to a rack, and rub a dress against my hand. “Guess what color this is.”
We had this theory that you could learn how to tell, just by feeling, what color something was. For example, if you’re sitting on a lawn, you can tell what color green the grass is, with your eyes closed, depending on how silky-rubbery it feels. With clothing, stretchy velvet stuff always feels red when your eyes are closed, even if it’s not red. Natasha was always best at guessing colors, but Natasha is also best at cheating at games and not getting caught.
One time we were looking through kid’s t-shirts and we found a Muppets t-shirt that had belonged to Natalie in third grade. We knew it belonged to her, because it still had her name inside, where her mother had written it in permanent marker, when Natalie went to summer camp. Jake bought it back for her, because he was the only one who had money that weekend. He was the only one who had a job.
Maybe you’re wondering what a guy like Jake is doing in The Garment District with a bunch of girls. The thing about Jake is that he always has a good time, no matter what he’s doing. He likes everything, and he likes everyone, but he likes me best of all. Wherever he is now, I bet he’s having a great time and wondering when I’m going to show up. I’m always running late. But he knows that.
We had this theory that things have life cycles, the way that people do. The life cycle of wedding dresses and feather boas and t-shirts and shoes and handbags involves the Garment District. If clothes are good, or even if they’re bad in an interesting way, the Garment District is where they go when they die. You can tell that they’re dead, because of the way that they smell. When you buy them, and wash them, and start wearing them again, and they start to smell like you, that’s when they reincarnate. But the point is, if you’re looking for a particular thing, you just have to keep looking for it. You have to look hard.
Down in the basement at the Garment Factory they sell clothing and beat-up suitcases and teacups by the pound. You can get eight pounds worth of prom dresses–a slinky black dress, a poufy lavender dress, a swirly pink dress, a silvery, starry lame dress so fine you could pass it through a key ring– for eight dollars. I go there every week, hunting for Grandmother Zofia’s faery handbag.
The faery handbag: It’s huge and black and kind of hairy. Even when your eyes are closed, it feels black. As black as black ever gets, like if you touch it, your hand might get stuck in it, like tar or black quicksand or when you stretch out your hand at night, to turn on a light, but all you feel is darkness.
Fairies live inside it. I know what that sounds like, but it’s true.
Grandmother Zofia said it was a family heirloom. She said that it was over two hundred years old. She said that when she died, I had to look after it. Be its guardian. She said that it would be my responsibility.
I said that it didn’t look that old, and that they didn’t have handbag two hundred years ago, but that just made her cross. She said, “So then tell me, Genevieve, darling, where do you think old ladies used to put their reading glasses and their heart medicine and their knitting needles?”
I know that no one is going to believe any of this. That’s okay. If I thought you would, then I couldn’t tell you. Promise me that you won’t believe a word. That’s what Zofia used to say to me when she told me stories. At the funeral, my mother said, half-laughing and half-crying, that her mother was the world’s best liar. I think she thought maybe Zofia wasn’t really dead. But I went up to Zofia’s coffin, and I looked her right in the eyes. They were closed. The funeral parlor had made her up with blue eyeshadow, and blue eyeliner. She looked like she was going to be a news anchor on Fox television, instead of dead. It was creepy and it made me even sadder than I already was. But I didn’t let that distract me.
“Okay, Zofia,” I whispered. “I know you’re dead, but this is important. You know exactly how important this is. Where’s the handbag? What did you do with it? How do I find it? What am I supposed to do now?”
Of course she didn’t say a word. She just lay there, this little smile on her face, as if she thought the whole thing–death, blue eyeshadow, Jake, the handbag, faeries, Scrabble, Baldeziwurlekistan, all of it–was a joke. She always did have a weird sense of humor. That’s why she and Jake got along so well.
I grew up in a house next door to the house where my mother lived when she was a little girl. Her mother, Zofia Swink, my grandmother, babysat me while my mother and father were at work.
Zofia never looked like a grandmother. She had long black hair which she wore up in little, braided, spiky towers and plaits. She had large blue eyes. She was taller than my father. She looked like a spy or ballerina or a lady pirate or a rock star. She acted like one too. For example, she never drove anywhere. She rode a bike. It drove my mother crazy. “Why can’t you act your age?” she’d say, and Zofia would just laugh.
Zofia and I played Scrabble all the time. Zofia always won, even though her English wasn’t all that great, because we’d decided that she was allowed to use Baldeziwurleki vocabulary. Baldeziwurlekistan is where Zofia was born, over two hundred years ago. That’s what Zofia said. (My grandmother claimed to be over two hundred years old. Or maybe even older. Sometimes she claimed that she’d even met Ghenghis Khan. He was much shorter than her. I probably don’t have time to tell that story.) Baldeziwurlekistan is also an incredibly valuable word in Scrabble points, even though it doesn’t exactly fit on the board. Zofia put it down the first time we played. I was feeling pretty good because I’d gotten forty-one points for “zippery” on my turn.
Zofia kept rearranging her letters on her tray. Then she looked over at me, as if daring me to stop her, and put down “eziwurlekistan”, after “bald.” She used “delicious,” “zippery,” “wishes,” “kismet”, and “needle,” and made “to” into “toe”. “Baldeziwurlekistan” went all the way across the board and then trailed off down the righthand side.
I started laughing.
“I used up all my letters,” Zofia said. She licked her pencil and started adding up points.
“That’s not a word,” I said. “Baldeziwurlekistan is not a word. Besides, you can’t do that. You can’t put an eighteen letter word on a board that’s fifteen squares across.”
“Why not? It’s a country,” Zofia said. “It’s where I was born, little darling.”
“Challenge,” I said. I went and got the dictionary and looked it up. “There’s no such place.”
“Of course there isn’t nowadays,” Zofia said. “It wasn’t a very big place, even when it was a place. But you’ve heard of Samarkand, and Uzbekistan and the Silk Road and Ghenghis Khan. Haven’t I told you about meeting Ghenghis Khan?”
I looked up Samarkand. “Okay,” I said. “Samarkand is a real place. A real word. But Baldeziwurlekistan isn’t.”
“They call it something else now,” Zofia said. “But I think it’s important to remember where we come from. I think it’s only fair that I get to use Baldeziwurleki words. Your English is so much better than me. Promise me something, mouthful of dumpling, a small, small thing. You’ll remember its real name. Baldeziwurlekistan. Now when I add it up, I get three hundred and sixty-eight points. Could that be right?”
If you called the faery handbag by its right name, it would be something like “orzipanikanikcz,” which means the “bag of skin where the world lives,” only Zofia never spelled that word the same way twice. She said you had to spell it a little differently each time. You never wanted to spell it exactly the right way, because that would be dangerous.
I called it the faery handbag because I put “faery” down on the Scrabble board once. Zofia said that you spelled it with an “i,” not an “e”. She looked it up in the dictionary, and lost a turn.
Zofia said that in Baldeziwurlekistan they used a board and tiles for divination, prognostication, and sometimes even just for fun. She said it was a little like playing Scrabble. That’s probably why she turned out to be so good at Scrabble. The Baldeziwurlekistanians used their tiles and board to communicate with the people who lived under the hill. The people who lived under the hill knew the future. The Baldeziwurlekistanians gave them fermented milk and honey, and the young women of the village used to go and lie out on the hill and sleep under the stars. Apparently the people under the hill were pretty cute. The important thing was that you never went down into the hill and spent the night there, no matter how cute the guy from under the hill was. If you did, even if you only spent a single night under the hill, when you came out again a hundred years might have passed. “Remember that,” Zofia said to me. “It doesn’t matter how cute a guy is. If he wants you to come back to his place, it isn’t a good idea. It’s okay to fool around, but don’t spend the night.”
Every once in a while, a woman from under the hill would marry a man from the village, even though it never ended well. The problem was that the women under the hill were terrible cooks. They couldn’t get used to the way time worked in the village, which meant that supper always got burnt, or else it wasn’t cooked long enough. But they couldn’t stand to be criticized. It hurt their feelings. If their village husband complained, or even if he looked like he wanted to complain, that was it. The woman from under the hill went back to her home, and even if her husband went and begged and pleaded and apologized, it might be three years or thirty years or a few generations before she came back out.
Even the best, happiest marriages between the Baldeziwurlekistanians and the people under the hill fell apart when the children got old enough to complain about dinner. But everyone in the village had some hill blood in them.
“It’s in you,” Zofia said, and kissed me on the nose. “Passed down from my grandmother and her mother. It’s why we’re so beautiful.”
Meet the Author
Kelly Link is the author of the collections Get in Trouble, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. She and Gavin J. Grant have co-edited a number of anthologies, including multiple volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and, for young adults, Monstrous Affections. She is the co-founder of Small Beer Press.
Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Link was born in Miami, Florida. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
[ I received this book free from the author through GoodReads/ First Reads . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] This book, a collection of short stories in the magical realism relm, is probably not written for someone my age, but aimed toward a younger reader. IMHO, the best story is the first one,"The Faery Handbag", where the narrator keeps telling us NOT to believe a word that is said, but there's just enough reality for you want to. That seems to be the tie together, every story has just that touch. Unfortunately, just not my cuppa, and I reluctantly will not recommend it
Magic for Beginners is a collection of short stories full of ism's; mainly magical realism (as the title infers) and surrealism. My favorite was the Stone Animals. This story has touches of Gulliver's Travels and psychological thrills as some of the characters slowly are removed from existence. Another is Grandma's magical purse, The Faery Handbag and what powers does it really hold? The Lull has stories within stories, you go forwards and backwards and travel through time. If you enjoy magical realism and a good story this is a book to read.