I’ve finally finished Magic for Beginners, which I started posting about last week.
I don’t think the remaining stories have changed my impression of the book, but the thing I didn’t mention last time is just how well-written the stories are. Even at its most surreal the prose dances with individuality, and in its more naturalistic moments Link’s calm, quirky, always subjective voice has a knack for finding the telling details which makes her a very astute chronicler of people and their irrational foibles. The title story is a good case in point. It ostensibly deals with television fandom in a tale of teenage fans and their obsession with a crazy, theatrical genre TV series (which airs new episodes at random times). The lives of the teenagers are painted in careful prose that reveals the intensely personal way they approach the world but never judges or questions them. And yet nothing is never quite what it seems. The characters are themselves part of a TV episode. Somehow. Games are played with storytelling. Time is skipped over. And the end rapidly unravels into a perceptible sense of dread without any rational reason that can be put into words. All in that same mild, matter-of-fact, entirely unreliable voice.
I’m not sure that the story as a whole worked for me, but it was undeniably well-written. As I said last time it reminds me strongly of Jonathan Carroll, who often lays down a reassuring bedrock of mundane detail and then walks you into a pit. Except that in Kelly Link’s stories the bedrock feels uncertain beneath your feet right from the start, if it was ever there at all.
There’s very little bedrock in the final story, ‘Lull’, which becomes rapidly and irretrievably surreal. The story begins around a poker table but swiftly diverts into stories within stories within stories. By the end there seems to be no pre-eminent reality but only stories which cross-fertilise one another. Each story is interrupted, so none comes to any sort of satisfactory conclusion. There’s a fantastic profusion of ideas about people, life and storytelling in this story and these things are in themselves enjoyable, but I’m not quite sure, ultimately, what my reaction is to it. Except possibly WTF?
I think that may be my reaction to the book, too. Some stories I enjoyed immensely, either because they disturbed the hell out of me or because I admired their craft. Others were just a little bit too surreal, too aimless, too reliant on strange and capricious dream-logic to the exclusion of all else. I think I need a little bit more of that bedrock to grab onto.