Magic for Beginners
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Magic for Beginners

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  4,368 ratings  ·  671 reviews
Best of the Decade: Salon, The A.V. Club

"If I had to pick the most powerfully original voice in fantasy today, it would be Kelly Link. Her stories begin in a world very much like our own, but then, following some mysterious alien geometry, they twist themselves into something fantastic and, frequently, horrific. You won’t come out the same person you went in."—Lev Grossman...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published July 1st 2005 by Small Beer Press (first published January 1st 2005)
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oriana
Reading Kelly Link makes me wonder why anyone else ever tries to write anything. Honestly.

I mean, I'm sorry to have to say this to all the people who write short stories and everything, but "Stone Animals" is the absolute very best short story that has ever been written. Oh, wait, except for "Lull"; that is actually the very best short story that has ever been written ever. I can't decide, but anyway, the rest of the writing world should just give it up, nothing can top this book.

Honestly I can...more
Rebecca
I've only got so much patience for surrealist storytelling, so maybe this was not the anthology for me. The early stories in the collection are the kind of dream-logic-based oddities that, when you stumble upon them surrounded by other writers' work, are interesting, if a little unsatisfying in their lack of conclusion. For example, when Eastern European refugees hide in a magical handbag and a wayward boyfriend makes off with it, the idea is clever and the writing both fantastic and absurd. But...more
tee
Like Grimm's on a hit of acid. Or Lemony Snicket if he wasn't so flaccid. Just kidding, I love Snicket, i just wanted to make a rhyme. Maybe a bit like Miranda July's night terrors would be like after a night on magic mushrooms? Murakami inside Raoul Duke's body visiting a Hayao Miyazaki movie (say, Spirited Away)? Or really, I shouldn't bother with comparisons because Kelly Link is like nothing else I've ever read.

One day I will no longer be surprised that I like books that everyone hates and...more
Trish
Link garners effusive praise from Jonathan Lethem, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, Peter Straub, Alice Sebold, et al. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don't. Some of her stories I enjoy, some of them I don't.

For example, take the two stories in this collection that I had read previously: Catskin and Stone Animals, both of which I read in McSweeney's. I liked Catskin slightly more the second time around, but it still rates a thumbs down. It's the tale of a witch and her three children and her...more
Fred
Here's the review from my twice-yearly zine (October '06). I think I preferred Link's debut short story collection, Stranger Things Happen, but I definitely appreciate what she's aiming for her. Nobody writes stories quite like hers:

Kelly Link is herself no stranger to the bizarre,
or even to charges of sometimes wading too deep
into its waters for some readers’ taste.

In a recent missive to members of her online
writing workshop, Link encouraged writers to
“submit more ambitious work....stories and...more
Nancy
I can't give Magic For Beginners a rating, because it's simply a book that wasn't "for me." It's not fantasy; it's magic realism, and personally, I need some recognizable logic and structure in fiction. Kelly Link is a finely skilled writer, and there's many a delightful turn of phrase, but the complete picture of each story was unsatisfying. However, I don't care for Gabriel Garcia Marquez either, and while I couldn't even finish A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, I did feel driven to read all the st...more
Jen
Nov 15, 2008 Jen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone tired of the same old same old
Recommended to Jen by: 2005 Best American Short Stories
I read one short story by Kelly Link in an anthology and knew that she was magical. I had to have more, so I stole my man's copy of Magic for Beginners and read through it in one sitting. The realm of the fantastic is usually not my thing, but well-written creative pieces are and this book definitely qualifies. "Stone Animals" in this collection is usually picked as the stand-out piece, and it surely deserves to be so (who else could make paint licking sound so right?), but there are others tha...more
Whitaker
It's somewhat unfair to put this as read, since I haven't read all the stories in it. But I'd read enough to know that it wasn't really my cup of tea. That's entirely a subjective reaction and could be as much due to what my expectations were. It's like putting an olive in your mouth thinking that it's a grape - the shock puts you off even if the olive is perfectly good for what it is.

When I bought this, it was shelved under the Fantasy section. I was expecting Fantasy a la Charles de Lint and...more
Evgeny
This is a collection of weird short stories which can be loosely qualified as urban fantasy. When I said the stories are weird, I really meant it. I would not be able to tell the plot of any of nine stories from the book. Do you want to know about a man loving a cannon? How about a man marrying a dead woman and having children? What about a whole nation sitting in a handbag? A son of a witch walking around in a cat costume made out of cats? You can have all of these and more.

This is the second b...more
MJ Nicholls
A canny short story writer with a wholly unique vocabulary, range and personality. The closest touchstone in history would be Donald Barthelme, though Link furthers this ironical postmodern format to incorporate fables, fantasies and fairytales into her cleverly conceived mini-epics. It's hypetacular.
Anton
This book is like the literary equivalent of a road trip. Like Kelly Link thought about getting in her car and driving somewhere but had no idea where she wanted to go, but knew vaguely what she wanted to see. Or maybe it's like she was lying asleep in her bed plugged into something that transcribed her dreams onto paper as she slept and turned them into short stories. Or it could even be like those old Magic Eye books where if you're impatient all you see is a jumble of colours and nonsense and...more
Emily
Nine short stories of magical realism, stories that shift effortlessly from fairy-tale mode to a much more naturalistic mode to surreal absurdity.

The thing about these stories--the frustrating, beautiful thing--is that they are not merely hard to understand. They resist all efforts to understand them. They hint at the feeling that, oh, if only you were smart enough, if only you spent enough time decoding the symbolism and the turns of phrase, everything would suddenly become bright-clear and rev...more
Boden Steiner
A short story by Kelly Link is a suicide snow cone that tastes like the best thing you never knew you could have.

Turning the pages of Magic for Beginners, you are never quite sure what you will get, but after one or two stories you quickly realize that this random unknowing is the one constant, and what you quickly learn to love about a Kelly Link story. You welcome the jump, allowing the rabbit hole door to lock behind you, even hoping that it does. When I say rabbit hole, I really mean the sec...more
Noah Soudrette
The first story is called "The Faery Handbag" is a tale about a girl's grandmother and her magical handbag. The whole thing is a bit of an obvious allegory for life, particularly the life of women and elders. Still, it's very bittersweet and a short interesting intro to the collection.

The second story is called "The Hortlak" and is really both brilliant and stupid. The whole thing is a bizarre expressionist dream about working retail and loving a woman. I feel very close to this story. It's reas...more
Benjamin
It could be that I am simply unpleasable; or that these stories would have tickled the part of me that enjoys clever writing had I simply read them at the right time. But as it is, this book was a real grind for me to get through.

It could have been the clever turns-of-phrase that exposed rather than hid a certain hollowness of feeling at the core of these stories. (Or is this just an effect of writing about characters who are numb or inarticulate or vaguely longing or just plain vague?) It could...more
Nicole
The stories in this book ooze creativity and imagination, which I'm generally a sucker for. There's a risk, though, in straying too far from traditional lines, in that the stories still have to connect for the reader on some level strongly enough for us to be willing to let go of the fact that we're being asked to take this bizarre world at face value.

For all of the creative elements, many of them very well-rendered (zombies really are vastly under-utilized in contemporary fiction, and the vill...more
Kyle Muntz
I'm really surprised to say this, but--I don't think I like this collection much. Each of the stories had brilliant elements but I kept feeling they were introduced and never used (probably because not many of them have conclusions). This probably isn't fair to Link though, since she's fantastic in a lot of ways. Maybe part of the problem is I've read some great books of short fiction recently that cover the same territory and used similar elements better--Peter Tieryas, Alyssa Nutting, Charles...more
Rob
Feb 04, 2008 Rob rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Rob by: Creighton
Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners collection. Pretty awesome. A lot of “coming of age” stuff and adolescent themes. But beyond charming and cute. Insightful and provocative. And sexy in that “I just found out what sexy is” sort of way. Highlights include “The Faery Handbag” (makes you bite your lip and fall in love with life again), the puzzlingly epiphanic “The Hotlak”, and the absolutely fucking terrifying “Stone Animals”. There are a couple of these short stories I feel the need to re-read to...more
Taylor
Disappointing. I think I would have liked this book a lot better if it weren't for some really annoying technical tics, like the fact that every single one of these stories is riddled with tense changes that make no sense. There were three stories that I really, really liked even in spite of this: "The Faery Handbag," "Stone Animals" (which I actually loved), and "Catskins." The rest, though, were kind of like reading someone else's dream--fascinating if you're the one having the dream, not so m...more
Megan
Jan 07, 2009 Megan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Megan by: Novelist
I really wanted to like this book. I first heard about it on Novelist maybe a year ago, made a note of it, and just recently found it at Bookman’s. It seemed like just the kind of book I would like – I often read novels and short stories like these, and I love magic realism - and so it moved to the top of my mental “to-read” queue. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it.

There were a couple of stumbling blocks to me in all of the stories except the very first one in this collection, “The Faer...more
Tristan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah
For some reason, I assumed this was a young adult title; I think it was the cover, or possibly the name.
Link's characters are for the most part grotesques, like those of Sherwood Anderson and Miranda July (but way better than July), only infused with a bit of magic. The stories are full of strange people doing normal things in strange places, or normal people doing strange things in strange places, or some other variation. There are some wonderful, bizarre descriptions and the little illustratio...more
Thomas
I marvel at Kelly Link's raw imaginative power, darker than a Grimm fairy tale, fluid as dream.

Here's me trying to explain one of the stories to my wife: "You see there's this convenience store next to a place called the Ausible Chasm, where zombies live. The zombies come into the store but never buy anything. A woman named Charlie drives past on her way to the animal shelter. Her car is filled with the ghosts of dogs she has killed."

Here's my wife's reaction: "Hmmm..."

If you grew up loving fant...more
Kathryn
Jan 25, 2008 Kathryn rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who think any book is enhanced by zombie and Lovecraft references (and really, don't we all?)
Some of the stories were pretty amazing--the kind you finish and immediately want to start again to see what you might have missed. I like the air of mystery and missing-ness, the way she fills the pages but leaves spaces inbetween for the imagination. I'd read some of these in anthologies. There were stories I loved (The Hortlak, Some Zombie Contingency Plans, The Faery Handbag), some I liked a lot but didn't connect to as well (The Great Divorce), some that didn't work for me (The Lull) and on...more
Cher
This collection of surreal short stories is one of the most striking books I've read in...my life. There is something utterly primal about the odd goings on in these tales that speaks to one's subconscious more loudly than to one's consciousness. These stories are not weird for weirdness' sake, neither are they science fiction. They are more on par with fairy tales, strumming at universal tropes and archetypes in the back on your brain. There were a few stories I did not like, that did not reson...more
Arnav Sinha
I would like to believe I am a fairly patient person when it comes to books. Have read a few difficult books in my time, and have always been willing to go the distance to understand the book, and the author. I can even do surreal pretty well.

In this case, I could not. I labored through the stories - most of which seemed to work for a while, but then just flew into a different plane - only because of the glowing reviews I have seen everywhere. For a while I was even worried I had somehow got the...more
Sub_zero
4.5/5

La lectura de este libro fue producto de un chivatazo. La recomendación expresa, obligatoria e incontestable de uno de esos soplones literarios que siempre andan al acecho de irresistibles ofertas con las que encaprichar a los demás y ¿por qué no?, también a sí mismos. Pero qué mas da, cuando lo que hay dentro del sobre no es dinero sino algo mucho mejor: un compendio de relatos tan enloquecido, esquizofrénico, estrafalario, e incalificable como este. Kelly Link, esa mujer apenas conocida d...more
Phoebe
I usually enjoy being unsettled by writers; when reading a skin-crawlingly creepy Stephen King novel, or spooky and sexual and gross alien sex story by Octavia Butler, I enjoy the little shivers that run up-and-down my arms. Unfortunately, though I was frequently unsettled by the stories in Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners, it wasn't always a good kind of unsettled.

Link's tales ranged from nearly straight-forward fiction (the title story) to extremely surreal and dreamlike vignettes ("The Hortla...more
Joel Neff
The Faery Handbag
A young woman loses a handbag her grandmother had given her that contains a magical village within it. I liked it, but the first person character was somewhat hard to nail down; the protagonist was somewhat vaguely sketched. Whether by intention or accident, I can't say, but I found it distracting. 3/5

The Hortlak
This is a strange story that captivated me in spite of its weirdness. The world it describes is horrifying and the story goes nowhere, and yet I found myself hoping that...more
Sergsab
"Pero no puedes fiarte de las apariencias. Si esta historia tiene o no final feliz, depende por supuesto de quién la lea. De si eres un lobo o una chica. Una chica, un monstruo o ambos. En un cuento no todos consiguen el final feliz. No todos los que leen un cuento piensan lo mismo del final, y si vuelves al principio y lo lees de nuevo, quizás descubras que no se trata de la misma historia que creías haber leído. Las historias cambian de forma. Lo mismo se puede decir las chicas. Y de las perso...more
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Kelly Link is an American author of short stories born in 1969. Her stories might be described as slipstream or magic realism: sometimes a combination of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and realism.
More about Kelly Link...
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“The Customer isn't always right. Sometimes the customer is an asshole. That's the first rule of retail.” 6 likes
“When Carleton was three
months old, Henry had realized that they’d misunderstood something.
Babies weren’t babies—they were land mines; bear traps; wasp nests. They
were a noise, which was sometimes even not a noise, but merely a listening
for a noise; they were a damp, chalky smell; they were the heaving, jerky,
sticky manifestation of not-sleep. Once Henry had stood and watched
Carleton in his crib, sleeping peacefully. He had not done what he wanted
to do. He had not bent over and yelled in Carleton’s ear. Henry still hadn’t
forgiven Carleton, not yet, not entirely, not for making him feel that way.”
4 likes
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