She has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction” and by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure.” Now Kelly Link’s eagerly awaited new collection — her first for adult readers in a decade — proves indelibly that this bewitchingly original writer is among the finest we have.
Link has won an ardent following for her ability, with each new short story, to take readers deeply into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe. The nine exquisite examples in this collection show her in full command of her formidable powers. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.
Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, superheroes, the Pyramids. . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty — and the hidden strengths — of human beings. In this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.
The 11 fantasies in this first collection from rising star Link are so quirky and exuberantly imagined that one is easily distracted from their surprisingly serious underpinnings of private pain and emotional estrangement. In "Water Off a Black Dog's Back," a na‹ve young man who has never known personal loss finds that the only way he can curry favor with his lover's physically afflicted family is to suffer a bizarre amputation. The protagonist in "Travels with the Snow Queen" reconsiders her fairy-tale romance when she deconstructs the clich‚s of traditional fairy tales and realizes that their heroines inevitably sacrifice and suffer much more than their heroes do. Link favors impersonal and potentially off-putting postmodern narrative approaches, but draws readers to the emotional core of her stories through vulnerable but brave characters who cope gamely with all the strangeness the world can throw their way. In the book's most effective tale, "Vanishing Act," a young girl's efforts to magically reunite herself with her distant family by withdrawing from the world around her poignantly calls attention to the spiritual vacancies and absence of affection in the family she stays with. "The Specialist's Hat" features twin sisters whose morbid obsessions seems due as much to their father's parental neglect as their mother's death. Although a few of the selections seem little more than awkward freshman exercises in the absurd, the best shed a warm, weird light on their worlds, illuminating fresh perspectives and fantastic possibilities.