Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

"Pretty Monsters" by Kelly Link (Canongate, 2009)

On the back cover it says that she's both " between Alice Munro and J.K. Rowling" and "the literary descendant of Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka". The book reminded me more of Young Adult fiction with some trendy themes mixed in. Plucky orphans, little sisters, libraries, and twins are common motifs, as is the idea of a plague or war being "out there", threatening.

"The Wrong Grave" is about a guy digging up his ex-girlfriend's grave to recover his poems (a competition deadline's coming up). The body comes to life. The anonymous narrator's active, saying things like "Don't ask me what she meant by this" and "The dead girl left town as the sun was coming up. I won't tell you where she went ... Maybe she sent her mother postcards from time to time ... These postcards, not to mention her calligraphic scrolls, are highly sought after by collectors nowadays. I have two" (p.22).

"The Wizards of Perfil" is Fantasy again. "Magic for Beginners" (60 pages) is about some schoolkids and their favorite TV series

Episodes of The Library have no regular schedule, no credits, and sometimes not even dialogue. One episode of The Library takes place inside the top drawer of a card catalog, in pitch dark, and it's all in Morse code with subtitles. (p.96)

I liked the fantasy/reality mix of "The Faery Handbag" most.

if you touch it, your hand might get stuck in it, like tar or black quicksand or when you stretch our your hand at night, to turn on a light, but all you feel is darkness.
Faeries live inside it. I know what that sounds like, but it's true. (p.141)
Zofia said that in Baldeziwurlekistan they used a board and tiles for divination, prognostication, and sometimes even just for fun. She said it was a little like playing Scrabble. That's probably why she turned out to be so good at Scrabble (p.144)

"Monster" is far too long, though it improves towards the end. There are sparks of an interesting story - "You can learn a lot of stuff at camp ... You learn how to make something out of yarn and twigs called a skycatcher, because there's a lot of extra yarn and twigs in the world, and someone had to come up with something to do with it. ... You learn to pretend to be asleep when people make fun of you. You learn how to be lonely" (p.202)

"The Surfer" is over 60 pages long. In a near-future setting where flu pandemics kill millions, a son (Dorn) and father are quarantined in a hanger when they get off a plane in Costa Rica. At first the son thinks that his father has drugged and kidnapped him so that they could visit Hans Bliss and his people (Bliss claimed to have met aliens). In the confined conditions, the boy, a good soccer player, gets friendly with Naomi and Lara (who's planning to go to Mars). Link's pretty good at depicting small groups of youths when unrequited love is in the air. Naomi's the infodumper -

we only have Bliss's story about what the aliens said to him. I just only buy that an intelligent race, the first we've ever come into contact with, would casually drop by to tell us to be happy and naked and polyamorous and vegetarian and oh yeah destroy all nuclear stockpiles. All of those are good things, don't get my wrong. But they're exactly the kind of things you expect a retro-hippie like Bliss to say. And the result? What's left of the United States, not to mention Greater Korea, Indonesia, and most of the Stans, are all stockpiling weapons faster than ever, because they've decided it's suspicious that aliens apparently want us to destroy all nuclear weapons

(p.235) and

Tell me what you like best about our country ... Is it the fact that most of the states where anyone would ever actually want to live would secede like Calexico and Potlatch, if they had someone like Canada or Mexico to back them up? Is it the health care, the most expensive and least effective heath-care system in the world, the national debt so impressive it takes almost two whole pages of little tiny zeros to write it out? Tell me about your job prospects, Dorn. Who would you just kill to work for? Wal-Mart, McDisneyUniverse, or some prison franchise? Or were you going to join the army and go off to one of the Stans or Bads because you've always wanted to get gassed or shot at or dissolved into goo when your experimental weapon malfunctions?

(p.239). The final two pages are good, and I ended up liking the piece. On the other hand "The Constable of Abel" was 40 pages of nothing much. "The Cinderella Game" is shorter but no better. "Pretty Monsters" is another 60+ page story about young adults. Hints of werewolves by a castle in Romania, otherwise it's a coming-of-age piece. Again, far too long for what it is, though it ends promisingly. Here are some snippets from the final few pages

Lee turns the page, but that's the end of the story about Clementine. Not an end at all. Although you can guess what's about to happen to Clementine. Or maybe, Lee thinks, she's wrong. Maybe Cabell will save Clementine again.
Lee puts the book down for one of the goats to eat.
She thinks: It's like watching one of those horror movies, where you know the person is doing something stupid and you can't stop them from doing it, you just have to go on watching them do it. Where you know that the monster is about to show up, but the person acts as if nothing is wrong. As if there is no monster.
Peter O'Toole is blowing up trains. Which makes him a bad guy even though he's a good guy, too, right? Out in the night the full moon is caught in the black spokes of the Ferris wheel (p.384)
Except you can't judge a book by its cover. Whether or not this story has a happy ending depends, of course, on who is reading it. Whether you are a wolf or a girl. A girl or a monster or both. Not everyone in a story gets a happy ending. Not everyone who reads a story feels the same way about how it ends. And if you go back to the beginning and read it again, you may discover it isn't the same story you thought you'd read. Stories shift their shape. (p.388)
There were two girls in a room. They were reading a book. Now there are two wolves. The window is open and the moon is in it. Look again, and the room is empty. The end of the story will have to wait. (p.389)

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