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Magic for Beginners: Stories Paperback – July 1, 2014
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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My favorites include "The Hortlak." Although I have no idea what a Hortlak is (the word is only mentioned in the title) it's about a 24-hour convenience store, animal euthanasia, pajama pants, and zombies. According to google translate, "hortlak" is Turkish for "ghost," "ghoul," or "spook," so that's fitting. It's about embracing the unusual, which sometimes makes more sense than the mundane. For example, the convenience store will only sell you what you want, and you only pay what you want. How would the world change if things operated that way?
"Some Zombie Contingency Plans" is one that didn't capture me right away, but I read twice. That's something. It's about practical things (having a zombie contingency plan) versus impractical things (modern art), sex, identity, and, of course, zombies. Who are zombies? Are you a zombie? Am I zombie? Are we all zombies?
"Magic for Beginners" is about being obsessed with a TV show. We've all been there. We relate our lives and our dramas to the characters on the screen that they become real and we become fictional. We become the TV show, dramatizing our own existence.
A breakdown of what I loved:
1. Link masterfully uses clean and evocative prose that is difficult to find in writing with hints of fantasy. A lot of authors go the route of using sprawling sentences to create an ethereal quality. Link's prose gets across the same amount of description while maintaining a "realness" (for lack of better wording). Some of my favorite instances:
"She fixed her reptilian, watery gaze on him. She had problematical tear ducts. Though she could have had a minor surgical procedure to fix this, she'd chosen not to. It was a tactical advantage, the way it spooked people" (75).
"She'd had a passion for children with a certain color of red hair. Twins she had never been able to abide (they were the wrong kind of magic), although she'd sometimes attempted to match up sets of children, as though she had been putting together a chess set, and not a family. If you were to say a witch's chess set, instead of a witch's family, there would be some truth in that. Perhaps this is true of other families as well" (126).
2. The holistic way in which she tells her stories creates the sense that there's a much larger and stranger world out there than what the characters in a specific story are experiencing. She uses a lot of "asides" in which other events and ideas are alluded to, which does a lot to build the complexity of her world:
"In the witch's house the dead are sometimes quite talkative.
But the witch has nothing else to say at this time" (129).
3. The horror creeps up on you unexpectedly. The characters all speak with such a candid, matter-of-fact tone that you're drawn into the strange things in their world and nothing feels contrived (like things sometimes feel in short stories with horror-y twists).
4. I can't quite place the genre of Magic for Beginners. There are hints of humor, hints of fantasy, hints of horror, awe-inducing strangeness that seems more and more normal the further you read, and compelling characters with modern, relatable concerns despite their odd situations. Whatever it is, it works.