Kelly Link's second short story collection is aptly titled Magic for Beginners, for the short fiction she presents here is truly magical, with masterfully crafted stories that are as dark as they are delightful.
Link's first story collection, Stranger Things Happen (2001), became a cult favorite, with surreal and bizarre stories such as the Nebula Award-winning Louise's Ghost. She gained considerable industry attention when she turned down offers to publish her second collection with a major publishing house, choosing instead to stick with Small Beer Press, the independent press she co-owns with her husband Gavin Grant (a BookPage contributor). Noteworthy stories in Magic for Beginners include the Hugo Award-nominated "The Faery Handbag," a deeply touching story about a teenager named Genevieve and her eccentric grandmother Zofia. One of the most unusual things about Genevieve's book-stealing, Scrabble-playing, story-telling immigrant grandma is her big black purse. The hairy handbag is supposedly made out of dog skin and is the sanctuary for an entire village of Baldeziwurlekistanians. When the ageless Zofia finally dies, Genevieve loses the magical handbag and other invaluable things as well.
In "The Hortlak", an all-night convenience store located near the Ausible Chasm is likened to the Starship Enterprise. Its two-man crew of Batu and Eric are on a voyage of discovery while exploring revolutionary retail theories selling cigarettes and beef jerky to Canadians, truckers and zombies. As 19-year old Eric who is living in the store's utility closet and sharing very strange pajamas with his Turkish manager strives to decipher Batu's secret grand plan for the store, he also tries to figure out a way to escape his dead-end existence. A beautifully bizarre customer, a girl who works the night shift at a local animal shelter and euthanizes dogs after giving them one last mercy drive in her car, may be his way out. Lull is an ingeniously complex story within a story within a story that is ultimately about loss and redemption and happy beginnings.
Magic for Beginners is as wildly entertaining as it is just plain weird. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes disconcerting, Link's stories demonstrate her wicked sense of humor and genius wit.
Paul Goat Allen is a freelance editor and writer in Syracuse.