Monday, February 04, 2008

Magic For Readers

About a month ago, I was roaming in my local library's YA area when I came upon new a volume called Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link. Now, this did not look like YA to me, and my longtime readers are probably thinking, Oh, Gail must have had a meltdown right there in the library because she needs everything to be very clearly defined. Well, I thought of it. But then I recalled reading something I think Roger Sutton once wrote about part of a YA librarian's function being bringing the young to adult literature. I like to think that I am teachable, so, okay, I was able to understand and appreciate that philosophy.

And I brought Magic for Beginners home.

Now, Magic for Beginners is a collection of what might be described as weird ass short stories. And I mean that in the best possible way. I will say right up front that they tend to be the kinds of short stories that I finish reading and go, "Ah, what?" There may be an epiphany thing going on here, and I find that with those kinds of stories I often don't share the main character's revelation. Nonetheless, these are endlessly inventive tales. I believe we're also talking nonLatin American magical realism, edged with a tinge of horror. Link is obsessed with zombies, for instance, so much so that by the time I got to the story Some Zombie Contingency Plans I was beginning to think, Yes, perhaps I should have one. One of her stories takes place near Ausible Chasm, which I assume is Ausable Chasm. When I was there, maybe fifteen to twenty years ago, the infrastructure for getting about seemed a little old and creepy. Perhaps there could be zombies down there who come up to go shopping at a local convenience store as Link contends in The Hortlak.

In addition to dealing with the magical in every day situations, Link has a couple of stories in this volume that sort of telescope into themselves. The title story, for instance, appears to be about rabid fans of a television show until you realize they also appear to be living within an episode of that program.

Many of these stories have YA or at least older teen characters, which certainly would make them attractive to younger readers. On top of that, part way through reading this book, I suddenly experienced a flashback to my own teen years. Back then, I went through a Richard Brautigan phase and have held on to the three books I bought then, even though I can't say I ever understood much of what's in them. Brautigan's attraction for me was that his stuff was weird and different, unlike the books I found in my high school library. His work was a tipoff that there were all kinds of strange and marvelous things out there to read, if I could only find them. I got the same thrill yesterday when I was in the UConn Co-op looking at books you don't find stacked on those tables at Barnes & Noble.

Link's work, to me, is far more accessible than Brautigan's, but it gave this reader that same feeling of possibility I remember getting back when I was first exposed to Trout Fishing in America. Magic for Beginners could very well encourage older teen readers to go looking for more of the same.

According to Link's website, she has a YA collection, Pretty Monsters, coming out from Viking.

You can read the first story from Magic for Beginners, The Faery Handbag.

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