Hello, my dear readers!
The danger of reading fantasy stories as a mythological creature is that passages meant to startle, astound, and transport the reader into unimagined realms can seem mundane. Often an author’s description of a supernatural being will so wildly miss the mark, or pale in comparison to the strangeness of the actual animal, that it pulls me completely out of the story.
Not so with Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link’s masterful collection of short stories for young adults. In these stories the magic doesn’t sit on the surface like decorative frosting, but rather creeps into the skin of everyday life like deadly frostbite. The monsters of these stories sometimes leap out towards the end in all their demonic glory, but we feel their presence in every page. In stories like “Monster,” “The Cinderella Game,” and “The Specialist’s Hat,” we’re never quite sure of the line between human and monster, babysitter and ghost, sister and werewolf. The aliens in “The Surfer” may be the story’s least disturbing element.
The boundaries between reality and fiction, too, are liable to shift as each story progresses. In “Pretty Monsters,” the titular story, the first plot line appears in the novel a character from the second is reading. By the end of the story, the two lines have started doing little taunting figure-eights around each other in your brain until you’re not sure where reality ends and books begin. (Of course, that’s not such an unusual state of mind for an avid reader like yours truly.) In “The Faery Handbag” it’s a grandmother’s fantastical tales of her past that become reality, while in “The Specialist’s Hat” it’s the haunting verses of an obscure poet.
My favorite story in the collection is “Magic for Beginners,” which captures the wonderfully freaky ways that fandom can blend life and fiction. In it we learn of a TV show called The Library. The Library takes place inside the magical Free People’s World-Tree Library, a place infested with pirate-magicians, Forbidden Books, and an animated statue of George Washington. The actors in The Library continually switch roles, we are told, and the show’s airing schedule is extremely erratic. One of the main characters on the show is Fox, a “funny, dangerous, bad-tempered, flirtatious, greedy, untidy, accident-prone, graceful,” and mysterious woman (or sometimes a man) who speaks with a “soft, breathy-squeaky voice.” Nobody on the show has ever left the library until the cliffhanger of the most recent episode.
Inspired by “Magic for Beginners,” Karl and I have begun writing our own television show, The Bookstore, in which we will switch roles as an adventurous dragon and a sea monster with impeccable literary taste who both live in an enchanted nonprofit bookstore. If you have experience with filming, editing, or acting, and if you are willing to work in exchange for impeccable literary advice, please do submit an application or an audition tape. The first episode is set to film either next week or next year…or never. We hope to make The Bookstore‘s airing schedule charmingly erratic.
If you are an impatient sort and can’t wait for the first episode of The Bookstore to air, go read Pretty Monsters yourself. And if you’ve already read it, read it again. These are stories that beg for second readings. Maybe even thirds…
Daisy the Dragon