Michael Alexander's Reviews > Stranger Things Happen

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
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Aug 08, 2008

really liked it
Read in August, 2008

Kelly Link is tough for me to review. I like a lot about her: the little everyday details she stitches into her rewritten fairy tales, the way she throws a number of unrelated themes into a blender and somehow pulls out a compelling story out of all of this, held together basically by the feeling that the narrator KNOWS this all fits somehow. I also love the way that she really does break out of the genre ghetto without giving up her genre-ness--she FEELS like a piece of the future of SF/F if things go well. And as a longtime fan of the old New Wave of SF, I seriously love the nontraditional structures she uses.

At the same time, I feel like for all but the very best of her stories, you could come out with something pretty similar by building a Kelly Link machine: use random numbers to throw some Grimm's fairy tales, pop culture horror stuff and urban legends together, then write in really matter-of-fact style about an off-kilter breakup or friendship or family problem using these as lenses. At worst, her whole flat, "dreamlike" style can feel kind of forced. She never does anything else, after all, no matter WHAT the story.

Part of this is that I'm really oversaturated on retold fairy tales, no matter how remixed. There's Angela Carter, there's the entire urban fantasy genre, and of course there's dozens of anthologies out there (I feel like Terri Windling edited some of these) just treating a single Grimm's story (Snow White, for example) to a variety of new perspectives. It's just not feeling new anymore.

So I'm back to reviewing this book, which has a couple of serious stunners and nothing below "interesting."

"Travels with the Snow Queen" is all of the things above, but full of really SHARP interpersonal observations and takes the Briar Rose story totally off the rails. I love it--the one straight-fairy-tale one that really grabbed me by the guts.

"Most of My Friends are Two-Thirds Water" was nice and haunting, and like her best stories is something really about something much different from what it says it's about.

And "The Girl Detective" is pretty grand, supernatural Nancy Drew and all.

I think Magic For Beginners is more varied, and less trapped in the post-Angela Carter stuff, so I'd start there. But Link deserves a shot; if you're just the right person, you'll go absolutely crazy over her.
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