Magic for Beginners

Magic for Beginners

by Kelly Link, Shelley Jackson

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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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781931520928
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/29/2005
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 958,008
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow 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 hasalso 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.

Read an Excerpt

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 kids’ 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 District 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 lamé 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 handbags 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 plaited up in spiky towers. 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 Genghis 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 Genghis Khan. Haven’t I told you about meeting Genghis 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 spent only 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.”


When Zofia was nineteen, the shaman-priestess in her village threw the tiles and discovered that something bad was going to happen. A raiding party was coming. There was no point in fighting them. They would burn down everyone’s houses and take the young men and women for slaves. And it was even worse than that. There was going to be an earthquake as well, which was bad news because usually, when raiders showed up, the village went down under the hill for a night and when they came out again, the raiders would have been gone for months or decades or even a hundred years. But this earthquake was going to split the hill right open.


The people under the hill were in trouble. Their home would be destroyed, and they would be doomed to roam the face of the earth, weeping and lamenting their fate until the sun blew out and the sky cracked and the seas boiled and the people dried up and turned to dust and blew away. So the shaman-priestess went and divined some more, and the people under the hill told her to kill a black dog and skin it and use the skin to make a purse big enough to hold a chicken, an egg, and a cooking pot. So she did, and then the people under the hill made the inside of the purse big enough to hold all of the village and all of the people under the hill and mountains and forests and seas and rivers and lakes and orchards and a sky and stars and spirits and fabulous monsters and sirens and dragons and dryads and mermaids and beasties and all the little gods that the Baldeziwurlekistanians and the people under the hill worshipped.


“Your purse is made out of dog skin?” I said. “That’s disgusting!”


“Little dear pet,” Zofia said, looking wistful, “Dog is delicious. To Baldeziwurlekistanians, dog is a delicacy.”


Before the raiding party arrived, the village packed up all of their belongings and moved into the handbag. The clasp was made out of bone. If you opened it one way, then it was just a purse big enough to hold a chicken and an egg and a clay cooking pot, or else a pair of reading glasses and a library book and a pillbox. If you opened the clasp another way, then you found yourself in a little boat floating at the mouth of a river. On either side of you was forest, where the Baldeziwurlekistanian villagers and the people under the hill made their new settlement.


If you opened the handbag the wrong way, though, you found yourself in a dark land that smelled like blood. That’s where the guardian of the purse (the dog whose skin had been sewn into a purse) lived. The guardian had no skin. Its howl made blood come out of your ears and nose. It tore apart anyone who turned the clasp in the opposite direction and opened the purse in the wrong way.


“Here is the wrong way to open the handbag,” Zofia said. She twisted the clasp, showing me how she did it. She opened the mouth of the purse, but not very wide, and held it up to me. “Go ahead, darling, and listen for a second.”


I put my head near the handbag, but not too near. I didn’t hear anything. “I don’t hear anything,” I said.


“The poor dog is probably asleep,” Zofia said. “Even nightmares have to sleep now and then.”


After he got expelled, everybody at school called Jake Houdini instead of Jake. Everybody except for me. I’ll explain why, but you have to be patient. It’s hard work telling everything in the right order.


Jake is smarter and also taller than most of our teachers. Not quite as tall as me. We’ve known each other since third grade. Jake has always been in love with me. He says he was in love with me even before third grade, even before we ever met. It took me a while to fall in love with Jake.


In third grade, Jake knew everything already, except how to make friends. He used to follow me around all day long. It made me so mad that I kicked him in the knee. When that didn’t work, I threw his backpack out the window of the school bus. That didn’t work either, but the next year Jake took some tests and the school decided that he could skip fourth and fifth grade. Even I felt sorry for Jake then. Sixth grade didn’t work out. When the sixth graders wouldn’t stop flushing his head down the toilet, he went out and caught a skunk and set it loose in the boys’ locker room.


The school was going to suspend him for the rest of the year, but instead Jake took two years off while his mother homeschooled him. He learned Latin and Hebrew and Greek, how to write sestinas, how to make sushi, how to play bridge, and even how to knit. He learned fencing and ballroom dancing. He worked in a soup kitchen and made a Super 8 movie about Civil War reenactors who play extreme croquet in full costume instead of firing off cannons. He started learning how to play guitar. He even wrote a novel. I’ve never read it—he says it was awful.


When he came back two years later, because his mother had cancer for the first time, the school put him back with our year, in seventh grade. He was still way too smart, but he was finally smart enough to figure out how to fit in. Plus he was good at soccer and he was yummy. Did I mention that he played guitar? Every girl in school had a crush on Jake, but he used to come home after school with me and play Scrabble with Zofia and ask her about Baldeziwurlekistan.


Jake’s mom was named Cynthia. She collected ceramic frogs and knock-knock jokes. When we were in ninth grade, she had cancer again. When she died, Jake smashed all of her frogs. That was the first funeral I ever went to. A few months later, Jake’s father asked Jake’s fencing teacher out on a date. They got married right after the school expelled Jake for his AP project on Houdini. That was the first wedding I ever went to. Jake and I stole a bottle of wine and drank it, and I threw up in the swimming pool at the country club. Jake threw up all over my shoes.

Table of Contents

The Faery Handbag
The Hortlak
The Cannon
Stone Animals
Some Zombie Contingency Plans
The Great Divorce
Magic for Beginners

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Magic for Beginners 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an avid reader and an embarrassed fan of the strange and paranormal, it takes alot for me to be even faintly surprised by any ghost story these days. Link's collection of short stories did more than surprise me, they actaully thrilled me, alarmed me and most especially puzzled me. Don't expect your average gothic spooky tales here--even her obligatory ghost story is incredibly bizarre and positively dripping with post-modern conventions. Beyond the shock-and-awe factor, Link's stories resonate with the full range of human dilemas--apathy, cynicism, alienation and disgust--as well as at times presenting remarkably touching moments. I reccomend this one--but only for the adventurous and lovers of the eccentric. Those who prefer more straight forward, predictable pieces might want to steer clear, or at least wait for the paperback.
tikitu-reviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Link is more daring with this collection than with Stranger Things Happen, and it doesn't always do it for me. One of her strengths in the first collection is her willingness to leave the 'story' underspecified, which gives subtly-horror pieces like "Water off a Black Dog's Back" much more skin-creepy edge. In Magic, this approach sometimes gets taken far enough that I'm no longer sure there is a 'story' underneath. Another of her strengths is the slightly off-the-wall scattershot creativity (given free rein to glorious effect in the glimpses of "The Library" in the title story) but precisely this quality makes it difficult to decipher a piece like "The Hortlak", since any detail may be significant or might just be extravagant colour. I'm happiest when I don't quite understand what the author is saying, but when I'm still comfortable that they're saying something -- and some of these stories tip me off that narrow ledge, sadly.Still, this isn't always the case, and even where it is I'm hopeful that closer re-reading will pull things together a little. And really, I'm willing to put up with some authorial misbehaviour in exchange for beauties like "Some Zombie Contingency Plans", "Catskin", and (my personal favourite) "The Great Divorce".
bililoquy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Link's best work to date, collected. Any lover of fiction owes it to herself to read this collection cover to cover in a night. The Hortlak, Catskin, Stone Animals (anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2005), Lull, The Faery Handbag, the title story...well, I just listed half of the table of contents. All are bullseyes. Zombies, cheerleaders, superheroes, witches, and backwards-travelling devils populate and color an acute psychological landscape: these are never stories about zombies etc, but rather, identity, death, love, loss, youth, age, ennui.Link is writer's writer--she gathers plaudits from such disparate reviewers as China Mieville, Alice Sebold, and Jonathan Lethem. Her prose recalls J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman in its whimsical, sympathetic easiness, and Mieville in its poetry. Her daring willingness and easy capacity to depict a world which simply does not cohere is an inspiration.
abirdman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kelly Link is a young lion in the McSweeny's crowd, and what a great writer she is. All but one or two of these stories are deft and magical and damn good. A young writer with, I hope, a brilliant future. A little dark, a little perverse, and a little magical mystery with just the right amount of insouciance. A wholly satisfying book.
timtom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best fantasy short stories I've read in a long, long time! Kelly's little marvels are both funny and haunting, lightweight and dark, inspiring and highly enjoyable. And they have it all: aliens! zombies! giant spiders! teenage girls! A drugstore chain explores a brand new customer base in targeting the dead, counselors try to salvage marriages between living and dead through Ouija boards, teenagers find themselves a part of their favorite TV show, a man weds his cannon, a village hides in a handbag, a witch gives birth to her home... each story is a strange and clever universe, bridging the fantastic and the familiar, and sometimes even hides references to other stories: delightful!
ChrisRiesbeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fantasy, New Yorker style, but well-done enough to mostly please even someone like myself who doesn't like New Yorker stories. I disliked only one story, "Some Zombie Contingency Plans," whose title screams New Yorker and accurately so. My favorites were "The Faery Handbag," unabashedly fantasy, if you include Lafferty and John Crowley in your fantasy mix, and "Stone Animals," a tale of a haunted house with no ghosts, fair companion to Shirley Jackson. "Magic for Beginners" and "Lull" were fine but probably should not both have appeared at the end, since both work a bit heavily the tale within a tale theme. Don't expect resolutions. Just ride along for the frequent delicately carved phrase and wryly drawn characters.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The woman stood and flicked through magazines, and at some point she realized that the man standing there with his eyes closed was wearing pajamas. She stopped reading through People magazine and started reading Batu's pajamas instead. Then she gasped, and poked Batu with a skinny finger."Where did you get those?" she said. "How on earth did you get those?" Batu opened his eyes. "Excuse me," he said. "May I help you find something?""You're wearing my diary," the woman said. Her voice went up and up in a wail. "That's my handwriting! That's the diary I kept when I was fourteen! But it had a lock on it, and I hid it underneath my mattress, and I never let anyone read it. Nobody ever read it!"What is your Zombie Contingency Plan? According to Soap in the story of that name, everyone should have one . . . just in case.The book starts with a tale about a village hidden inside a dog-skin handbag, and it is followed by some equally inventive and varied stories. "Hortlak", doesn¿t seem to be fantasy at first, until you realise that the convenience store worker who refers to some of his customers as zombies isn¿t just being insulting. Other stories that I loved were "The Stone Rabbits" about an unusual haunted house, and the title story, in which a group of teenage friends are brought together my their love of a mysterious and irregularly scheduled cult TV series. I didn¿t like the non-story "The Cannon", and the book ended with one of the weaker stories, the backwards time-travel story "The Lull", but I loved the other seven stories.I'd never heard of Kelly Link until someone on the fantasywithbite Live Journal community recommended her, but I put this book on my wish list and came across it in the 'bad' bookshop in Birmingham (the source of many temptations at £1 per book). I'm a short story fan anyway, and this is one of the better collections of fantasy stories out there, so I will definitely be on the lookout for her other books.
RaceBannon42 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short Fiction is something I've not read much of. For most of my life the majority of what I read was Epic fantasy, big heavy multi-volume works. As a result, I've missed out on a whole lot of great writing. While good epic fantasy is still my favorite, I've been trying to expand my horizons, and I thought a great place to start would be with Kelly Link. Magic for Beginners, is a collection of 9 stories. Having never read Link I went in not knowing what to expect. The first story, The Faery Handbag, was a winner for me. Odd and quirky are the first two words that spring to mind when I try and describe this story, and come to find out the rest of the stories make this one seem pretty normal. In this story a young woman searches for her grandmother's magical handbag, that contains a realm in which time runs at a fraction of the speed of our world. The Hortlak, details the goings on of a 24 hour convenience store. Its sort of reminded me of Clerks meets Shawn of the Dead. The Cannon, was the shortest story and I didn't care for it. Link has a very stream of consciousness style of writing. Sometimes its brilliant, other times, its just too disjointed and out there for my taste. Stone Animals, had a very horror feel to me. While not a scary story really, I felt very disturbed at times while reading this. Catskin, was like a Grim Brothers' fairy tail on acid. While reading many of the stories, I found myself baffled as to how someone thinks of stuff like this. Some Zombie Contingency Plans, was my favorite story, not only does it have an awesome title, but it was the most realistic of the stories. I felt more connection to Soap than to anyone else in these stories. The Great Divorce, is a story about a man and his dead wife. She was dead when they were married. People occasionally marry ghosts. This of course can be problematic. Magic for Beginners, seems to be a favorite to take the Hugo for Novella this year. I can see why. This was a great story. How Link manages to craft a world within a world in such a short amount of space is amazing. The story centers around a group of teens and their love of the cult show The Library. The ideas she presents here are mesmerizing. I marvel at how her mind works. Lull, was a bit anticlimactic after the wonderful title story. This story was again rather meta. Stories within stories. As a whole I like the collection. Odd, weird, strange, and beautiful. I fully intend to read more by Link , and read more short fiction. 8 out of 10
klarsenmd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a unique collection of odd short stories. Some were fantastic and others were hard for me to get interested in. The voice is unique and the plots unusual, but something just kept me from being swept away.
asciiphil on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The stories are surreal but compelling. Not all of them are winners, but the title story is worth the price of the book alone.
beccareads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At first, I thought "I love this book! I'm going to recommend this book to all of those friends I have who want more fairytale fantasy but are tired of reading YA lit!" And then the stories just got creepier and creepier. Eventually turning to a new story required pushing through deepening levels of mental resistance. Apprehension. Queasiness. These stories are weird, all right, but also beautifully written and captivating, and not for the faint of heart. I didn't end up recommending the book to a lot of people, but I would definitely read more of her work.
bzedan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So, I'm a little super fond of Kelly Link's work. It's wild and fey in an old way, where the bright and sparkling creatures of the imagination bite and draw blood.The title story is like dreaming lucidly¿but I really loved Catskin for it's Grimm-ness (OMiG pun), so I'm gonna have to say that's the favourite.
donp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Her writing scares me. It makes me want to burn all of my writing materials in an oil drum and walk away.
solicitouslibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Without recalling too much of the book, many of these stories blurred together for me. Perhaps I was disappointed with them because I was so looking forward to reading it? I found it unworthy of the hype.
Chuck37 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There's no one like Kelly Link, that's for sure. You never know what the heck you're reading, but her stuff is so much fun you just don't care.
PhoebeReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I usually enjoy being unsettled by writers; when reading a skin-crawlingly creepy Stephen King novel, or spooky and sexual and gross alien sex story by Octavia Butler, I enjoy the little shivers that run up-and-down my arms. Unfortunately, though I was frequently unsettled by the stories in Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners, it wasn't always a good kind of unsettled.Link's tales ranged from nearly straight-forward fiction (the title story) to extremely surreal and dreamlike vignettes ("The Hortlak") and occupied nearly every space in the continuum between these extremes. I was least comfortable with the stories that fell somewhere in the middle--like "Lull", the tale of a poker game that abruptly becomes something about time travel and the devil halfway through, or "Stone Animals", a Year's Best winner which shoehorns supernatural elements (I think?) into a domestic story. That one reminded me quite a bit of House of Leaves, which essentially told the same story (family moves into a new house where something strange is happening) in a way that was simultaneously more affecting and--and I never thought I'd say this about House of Leaves--more straight-forward.My problem with these stories is that Link seems to find it unnecessary to establish any sort of rules for their fantastic elements. They have a slippery quality that I found vertigo-inducing rather than thrilling. In stories like "Catskin" or "The Hortlak" the surreal elements work because they're clearly part of the rules of both the universe-at-hand and the story. But, when she casually mentions that the characters in "Magic for Beginners" are fictional television characters, despite the fact that they otherwise seems completely grounded in our reality, I couldn't help but wonder: Why? To what end? How is the story enhanced by this? Unfortunately, those were questions that remained unaddressed.Similarly unsettling was Link's tendency not just to leave stories open-ended, but to end them at the absolutely worse time, often introducing new elements into the story in the same breath. There's no anticipating the endings here, and by the last story I read, I came to dread the last few pages, despite the fact I'd enjoyed the process of reading.These are issues of control, I think, and it's a shame--Link is clearly a strong writer. Her characters are vivid and her universes believable, but her stories would be a more satisfying read if she could stay true to either.
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absurdist fantasy fiction with a lot of references to classic and other stories. Again, I¿m left cold. I like worldbuilding and logical consequences, which means of course that the real world disappoints me a lot, but also that these stories aren¿t really for me. Available as a free download.
raphaelmatto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Took me totally off-guard. Who is Kelly Link? The last two stories are wonderful. Skip the story about the witch & her cats. Didn't care for many of the endings in this book though...
pratchettfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Magic for Beginners is a dazzling short story collection by Kelly Link that deftly intermingles reality, fantasy, mystery and magic. Some stories are deeply mysterious, others highly complex and others tell stories within stories within stories... Underneath it all is such an easy and fluent storytelling that it sets your imagination on fire. A must read!
rosencrantz79 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kelly Link gets the award for Most Off-the-Wall, Genre Crossing Fiction Ever. After reading "Stone Animals," her short story which appeared in BASS 2005 (about a family whose new house becomes increasingly more haunted, day by day), I needed more, so I bought Magic For Beginners. One must come to Link's writing fully expecting that ANYTHING can happen. In these stories, dead people interact with the living, an entire village lives inside an old woman's handbag, and characters time travel through telling stories. All of this, and there are two--count 'em: Two!--zombie stories, to boot!
cabrown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hands down, the best book I've read all year. Beautifully written stories that are just eerie enough to set your teeth on edge.
extrajoker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The cover art for this short story collection is what first caught my eye: I recognized it as a reworking of Lady with an Ermine. I really enjoy Link's smooth and conversational writing: she hooks me from the beginning, interests me in the odd paranormality of her world, makes me care about her characters. I only wish her stories were more story-like: instead, some of them fizzle, or just seem to maintain a steady level of (in)action, without climax and denouement. Still, with moods that volley between Gaimanic and Lovecraftian, the book is an enjoyable read.
wordebeast on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gorgeous gorgeous collection. "The Faery Handbag" is a must read. It converted me into a short story reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago