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Magic for Beginners Paperback – Unabridged, September 5, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The nine stories in Link's second collection are the spitting image of those in her acclaimed debut, Stranger Things Happen: effervescent blends of quirky humor and pathos that transform stock themes of genre fiction into the stuff of delicate lyrical fantasy. In "Stone Animals," a house's haunting takes the unusual form of hordes of rabbits that camp out nightly on the front lawn. This proves just one of several benign but inexplicable phenomena that begin to pull apart the family newly moved into the house as surely as a more sinister supernatural influence might. The title story beautifully captures the unpredictable potential of teenage lives through its account of a group of adolescent schoolfriends whose experiences subtly parallel events in a surreal TV fantasy series. Zombies serve as the focus for a young man's anxieties about his future in "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" and offer suggestive counterpoint to the lives of two convenience store clerks who serve them in "The Hortlak." Not only does Link find fresh perspectives from which to explore familiar premises, she also forges ingenious connections between disparate images and narrative approaches to suggest a convincing alternate logic that shapes the worlds of her highly original fantasies. (July 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Link's second collection has a McSweeney's-like tendency to digress, but does so without irony. Whether describing witches filled with ants that carry pieces of time, or an orange-juice-colored corduroy couch that looks as if it "has just escaped from a maximum security prison for criminally insane furniture," these stories examine American middle- and lower-middle-class life from unexpected angles that mix fairy tale, science fiction, and zaniness. In Link's worlds, a village takes refuge in a magical handbag, and a convenience store serves zombies as an experiment in retail. Two stories with zombies is perhaps too many, though the first effectively marries humor and horror. Reading Link, one has a sense that sometimes a person needs to wander off for a better perspective, and sometimes a person simply needs to wander off.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156031876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156031875
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #866,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kelly Link's debut collection, Stranger Things Happen, was a Firecracker nominee, a Village Voice Favorite Book and a Salon Book of the Year -- Salon called the collection " alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Stories from the collection have won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards. Her second collection, Magic for Beginners, was a Book Sense pick (and a Best of Book Sense pick); and selected for best of the year lists by Time Magazine, Salon, Boldtype, Village Voice, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Capitol Times. It was published in paperback by Harcourt. Kelly is an editor for the Online Writing Workshop and has been a reader and judge for various literary awards. With Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow she edits The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press). She also edited the anthology, Trampoline. Kelly has visited a number of schools and workshops including Stonecoast in Maine, Washington University, Yale, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, the Imagination Workshop at Cleveland State University, New England Institute of Art & Communications, Brookline, MA, Clarion East at Michigan State University, Clarion West in Seattle, WA, and Clarion South in Brisbane, Australia. Kelly lives in Northampton, MA. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kelly and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, publish a twice-yearly zine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet -- as well as books -- as Small Beer Press.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Kelly C. Shaw on July 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kelly Link's fiction is so good it's scary, as her lyrical voice is one of the most unique and singular in literature. Her fantastical stories are inimitable reinventions of familiar genre staples (zombies, ghosts, time travel, fairy tales, and more), filtered through a keen literary eye. The fantasy elements in her stories are always underpinned by a grave reality, be it loss of innocence, coming to grief, or family strife, but not at the expense of a story's humor or levity. Somehow, Link's stories capture both the familiar and the unknown, the horror and the beauty in life. I'm not quite sure how she does it.

Magic for Beginners, Link's second collection, contains some of her most mature and accomplished stories to date. Personal favorites are "Stone Animals," a domestic ghost story that plays with gender stereotypes, "Some Zombie Contingency Plans," an unpredictable, psychological horror story, and the titular novella "Magic For Beginners," a contemporary dark fantasy story, equal parts Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Videodrome, but which ultimately defies description. I don't know if Link will ever evolve into a novelist (and as long as she keeps churning out short fiction, I won't complain), but if she does, I believe "Magic For Beginners" will be identified as a stepping stone to her eventual longer works.

It's actually unfair to single out only a few stories of this 9-story collection, since they are all of high quality (though I'm not too fond of the postmodern stylization over characterization in "The Cannon"). Other gems include "The Hortlak," a hilarious, if somber, post-apocalyptic zombie story, and "Lull," a time-travel story like no other, replete with the devil, cheerleaders, poker parties, and aliens (believe me, it works).
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By gaimangirl on August 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Okay, so it's a silly cliche, but I'm going to use it anyway...Kelly Link is the absolute best writer that you've never heard of. Most people have no idea who she is, our bookstore doesn't even carry her books most of the time, but I think she's utterly brilliant, and she deserves to be better known. She deserves to win the Pulitzer as far as I'm concerned.

The stories in this collection are amazing--warm, witty, profound, laugh-out-loud funny, imaginative, and heartbreaking. The best way to describe her style is that she writes in dream images using dream logic. What I mean is, you know that feeling when you wake up from a vivid dream and you can't recall its chronological narrative format and it doesn't make much logical sense, yet at the same time you can remember vivid images and profound emotions that stem from it? That's exactly what reading a Kelly Link story is like. It's hard to explain precisely what happens in a literal sense, but she's able to make you feel just what she wants you to feel, even when you can't put your finger on why that is. I'm in awe of her ability make her readers feel such depth of emotion through such cryptic and dreamlike imagery.

Take "Lull" for instance, the first story that I read in this collection. It's a weird, complex story about a group of guys playing poker, a phone-sex operator/storyteller, the Devil, a cheerleader, aliens, clones, time travel, and probably a few more things I can't remember. I read it just going along for the ride at first, really having no idea where she was going with it, and then it hit me all at once that what she was really writing about was death and grief and the mourning process. I was overcome with emotion and practically cried throughout the ending.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By sfarmer76 on November 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Books like Magic for Beginners, $24.00, should be easy to praise. However this second collection of supernatural stories, from author Kelly Link, - while fun to read - makes for a difficult review. She's not a conventional writer and these aren't conventional stories. Ever read a story about a haunted family, and not a haunted house? I'm going to take a stab at summarizing, but frankly, I'm not sure if even I can serve this odd book any justice. It's one of those titles that you must read for yourself. It's been sheer folly trying to review it, but I think I've faithfully captured the basic texture of the book in my efforts here.

Each story hides an element of human chaos; a Russian grandmother with an enchanted handbag dies, a peculiar employee of an all-night convenience store runs away, a haunted family throws one last dinner party, a party crasher obsessed with zombies outsmarts a teenage girl, a witch gives her three children motherly deathbed advice, a man negotiates a divorce with his ghostly wife, the teenage son of a horror writer strives to save a fictional character (in a pirate TV broadcast) from certain death, and an apocalyptic weekend poker party is interrupted by alien visitors.

Grades of A plus (on the Steve-ometer) are given to four specific stories - Stone Animals, The Faery Handbag, The Great Divorce, and The Hortlak. These are the ones I consider as being groundbreaking, the best, the most sincere. Link obviously gave each of these four yarns a little extra-special effort. Each of these stories has a magical dreamlike quality. Stone Animals, originally published in Conjunctions, and soon to appear in the next edition of The Best American Short Stories series, establishes Link as a writer to watch.
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