Birthday Review: The Short Fiction of Kelly Link
Recently I mentioned how much I like Genevieve Valentine's short fiction, and I noted that she might be my favorite contemporary short fiction writer. And then I immediately noted that at last she's "in the conversation". By which I mean I have several favorites, and the one I'd pick on any given day can change. And one of my other absolute favorites is Kelly Link, who was born July 19, 1969. Which is almost a REALLY REALLY significant day in world history, I might add -- and in a very science fictional (and scientific) way!
Anway, here's a selection of my reviews of Kelly Link's short fiction, from Locus between 2004 and 2008. That leaves out a lot -- I covered her work in other venues earlier, and in Locus later, and I've liked it from the beginning. (I remain quite proud of noticing her first story, in Asimov's, and recommending it for a Hugo nomination.)
Locus, December 2004
And the real standout, one of my favorite stories of the year, is "The Faery Handbag", by Kelly Link. Genevieve is a girl in love with a boy named Jake. Genevieve also has an eccentric Grandmother, Sofia, who comes from Baldeziwurlekistan, which makes her hard to beat in Scrabble. Sofia has a special handbag, which, she says, holds her home village, placed there to escape the War. I shouldn't say more -- it's a neat story in itself, neater still because of Link's storytelling voice -- and I'm looking forward to more stories about Genevieve.
Locus, July 2005
Finally, the title story, "Magic for Beginners", is one of my favorite stories of this year. I was grabbed from the beginning lines: "Fox is a television character, and she isn't dead yet. But she will be, soon. She's a character on a show called The Library. You've never seen The Library on TV, but I bet you wish you had." Indeed I do! But the story isn't really about Fox -- it's about Jeremy Mars, a 15-year-old boy with a writer father and a librarian mother and a four close friends and, it turns out, an interest in a Las Vegas wedding chapel and a phone booth. Delight is the best word -- I was delighted every second to be reading this story.
(My feelings haven't changed! What a story, what a great great story.)
Locus, April 2006
Naturally one of the stories I most looked forward to was Kelly Link’s "The Wizards of Perfil", and this is indeed a very enjoyable piece, though not as good as her best work. A boy named Onion and his disagreeable cousin Halsa, as well as Halsa’s mother and brothers, are fleeing a war that has already their other parents’ lives. Money is short, so when a reprensative of the reclusive Wizards of Perfil offers to buy a child, one of them must go. Onion, who may be telepathic, seems a natural candidate to sell to the representative of the reclusive wizards, but somehow Halsa is sold instead. As we expect with Link, the story goes in unexpected directions, telling of both Onion and Halsa and the very reclusive wizards -- though I must say the resolution was exactly what I expected. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing.)
Locus, November 2007
Kelly Link’s "The Constable of Abal" is perhaps the best here. Zilla and Ozma are a mother and daughter who can see ghosts. They have had to flee Abal after Zilla killed a constable who was investigating some lucrative blackmail she was getting up to. But the ghost of the constable accompanies them, and eventually they fetch up in another town, at the house of the mysterious Lady Fralix. Who, in good time, will teach Ozma what she needs to know about her mother and herself. It is another delight from Link, charmingly told, original, fun and wise.
Locus, January 2008
And it will probably surprise few that my favorite story here is from Kelly Link. "Secret Identity" is about a superhero convention -- apparently with real superheroes, making this the one fantastical piece in the book -- and a girl who pretended to be her older sister and is now hoping for a rendezvous with an older man she "met" online. Which is as awkward as you might expect, and handled perfectly by Link: and not quite as you expect either.
Locus, January 2008
Kelly Link offers a truly remarkable story, "Light", which as with many Link stories is best read, not read about. But, briefly, it concerns Lindsey, who lives in a Florida a lot like the Florida we know. But not exactly -- for example, there are the "sleepers". Lindsey’s job is to manage a warehouse used by the government to house people found sleeping, unwakeable. And there are pocket universes, which can be explored, and toured, and even retired to, as with Lindsey’s parents. Lindsey also has an ex-husband, and a fairly crazy brother … and I don’t want to say much more but that it is wonderful as ever with Kelly Link, and that it is resolved perfectly.
Locus, May 2008
Kelly Link’s "The Surfer" is set in the near future. A Balkanized U.S. is descending to economic and political chaos. Its health care system is helpless in the face of a series of new flus -- and so Dorn’s father, a Doctor, grabs Dorn from soccer practice and whisks him down to Costa Rica. There they spend a short while in quarantine, waiting for a chance to join a colony centered around a surfer who was verifiably abducted by aliens and is waiting for their return. The SFnal furniture here is interesting -- the plausible and depressing near future, the potential aliens, Costa Rica’s dreams of a space program. But the story is about Dorn, his dreams of being a star soccer goalie, his immaturity, his interactions with a couple of girls also in quarantine. And, yes, his growth, in classic YA fashion -- but his growth seems earned, and isn’t implausible or excessive. And anyway it’s Kelly Link, which means the telling is enchanting.