Adventures in Reading


Short Stories: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, 2008
December 10, 2008, 11:55 am
Filed under: book reviews, short stories | Tags: , , ,

Of contemporary short story authors Kelly Link is one of my favorites. I fell in love with her collection Magic For Beginners and was pleased to discover this most recent collection Pretty Monsters in the young adult section. The collection includes stories from her previous collections, previously published stories, and the title story “Pretty Monsters” is unique to the book. Link includes fantasy, supernatural, and horror in the book as well as zombies, teen angst, and a 200-year-old grandmother. And as always Link’s ever-precise language usage has somewhat of a haunting effect on the book.

Where Pretty Monsters stands apart from Link’s other collections is that it includes some lengthier stories in quite different styles. For example the “The Wizards of Perfil” or “The Constable of Abal” are more reminiscent and thematically similar to traditional fantasy stories while in the past her fiction has been more skewed, more surreal. Some of the longer tales have made me curious if Link is possibly considering a novel, but personally I’m satisfied with the short stories: so please keep them coming!

Conclusion: Keeper.

Advertisements


The stack

book2

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Writing Women in Central America by Barbas-Rhoden
13 Ranchwater by Steven Maus
Things That Make Us [Sic] by Martha Brockenbrough
Days of Awe by Achy Obejas
Arsenic Soup For Lovers by George Z. Post
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
The Giants by J.M.G. Le Clezio
The Flood by J.M.G. Le Clezio
The Lullaby of Divine Music by John Addiego
Being Written by William Conesco
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Nation by Terry Pratchett



Short Story: Kelly Link’s The Specialist’s Hat

The current short story discussion at A Curious Singularity is on Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” and as I’m the one who suggested the title, I thought I ought to get around to posting on it!

I discovered Kelly Link by accident. I was looking for something good, fun, and fantasy-esque to read and I stumbled across Magic For Beginners. I then found myself a little in love with Link.

“The Specialist’s Hat” has a great deal going on through theme, build-up, and playing on some of the creepier aspects of childhood. Twins Samantha and Claire are “half-orphaned” after their mother passes away and now find themselves with their academic father, whose researching a “bad” and little-known faux poet Rash, living in the haunted house and museum Eight Chimneys. The story is interspersed with the poetry of Rash and narrative describing the house.

What could have been an obvious story is told with a certain children’s quality, a simplistic view, and a child’s observation. The story unfolds matter of factly, but flows into the unresolved ending that Link so often uses.

As a reader, it’s curious to investigate what’s real and what’s not real within “The Specialist’s Hat,” and Link provides well-balanced detail that never resolves this issue: Who is the woman in the woods? Is the baby sitter the dead daughter of Rash? What is the specialist’s hat? Is that the Specialist or really the father? What the hell is the Specialist? Is this a story about the over active imagination of two bored, little girls staying up late and ultimately recovering from the recent death of their mother or is Eight Chimneys truly a haunted house with a “gonna getcha” ending?



Half Way There!

It being July 1st, it is roughly half way through the year and I decided to spend some time looking back at my reading progress so far for 2008 and commenting on some of the more notable books I had adventures with.

I read Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad back in January and I loved it. It kicked off my experience with the Canongate Myth series, which I have been increasingly fond of with the more I read. Since reading it though, I have stumbled across a fair amount of less enthusiastic and more critical reviews. While I still find the book charming and is one of my preferred Atwood books, I do feel I must add the disclaimer that I read The Penelopiad shortly after I finished a course on “great literature” with a rather narrow-minded if not misogynistic professor.

In February I was completely enchanted and enthralled with Kelly Link’s Magic For Beginners. It was a book I picked up on a whim and ordered through Amazon before I had even finished it. This collection of short stories was located in fantasy and science fiction, but I suppose a more descriptive (and somewhat imaginary) genre would be something like contemporary surrealism. Whatever it is though, Link’s book is good and I see many a Christmas stocking in my future I will be filling with it. And, her latest collection available for free here.

In March I read some really terrific books ranging from Haruki Murakami to Terry Pratchett. But I don’t even have to twist my arm to settle on my favorite and most influential book being Words in Context (previously known as Japanese for Japanese) by Takao Suzuki. Reading the book was enjoyable though there were certainly some more grueling moments digging through this commentary on linguistics and language. However, during the past six months this has to be one of the books I refer to the most. Additionally, it gave me an entirely new and more inspiring way to look at learning languages.

I expanded my J.D. Salinger experience in April with reading his short story “A Perfect Day For Bananafish” from his Nine Stories collection. Until 2008, my experience with Salinger was limited to Catcher in the Rye, but I finally got around to reading Franny and Zooey and dug into Nine Stories for my personal short story reading challenge. It’s a brilliant short story that is… it’s just so perfect. And I got some terrific comments on other people’s experience with the story as well.

Perhaps a bit of a surprise as I read some really great books in May, but I have to say one of the best was Anisha Lakhani’s Schooled, which if not available yet will be out for public consumption over the next few weeks. I typically have a ridiculously horrible time when it comes to popular literature and picked up an ARC of Schooled at work to ease my brain. Though I had to twist my own arm into just enjoying a book for enjoyment sake, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself eagerly turning the page and getting pretty involved with the main character. It’s still the middle of summer and Schooled is an excellent book to spend some time with on a lovely day.

First Step in the New World by David Lida is a brilliant book that I read last month. An eclectic collection of essays exploring some of the many nuances of Mexico City, Lida has provided much more than a piece of travel writing with book. Lida spends time looking at the politics, socio-cultural, food, entertainment, gender studies – the book has just about anything. Whether you’re interested specifically in Mexico City, in modern architecture, or are just looking to expand your horizons Lida’s book is terrific. Perhaps my favorite part of the text is Lida’s actual voice, which makes Mexico City sound so tantalizing I want to hop on the next flight and buy Lida a beer.