Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review of Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

I wish I could give "Magic for Beginners" both 2 and 5 stars but this is not a goodreads option. It reads likes Jorge Borges teamed up with the Brother's Grimm, (maybe add Joss Whedon in there) and adopted contemporary US, with its vast array of mythologies as their topic. Borges added halls to the labyrinth of metaphysics, leaving the reader with a desire to re-read to actually understand, but also a fear and knowledge that perhaps not understanding was the closest thing to understanding. His work is mostly cerebral though, where Brothers Grimm get at the desire and fears in the pits of our stomaches and the apex of our nethers. 

Kelly Link does both of these, while consisting failing to follow the modern rules of story-telling. Her stories have no established conflict, but follow as many old fairy tales do, a wandering path, switching protagonists, and stories, mid story, multiple times. Symbols are left unexplained, over-used. A search of the interwebs quickly reveals that this medley of Dionysian fairy tale, sci-fi, fantasy interspliced with our time and people is a conscience choice by Link. It is clear from her art that she could do the Raymond Chandler, New Yorker style realism that progresses into epiphany, if she wanted to. 
She says that it is boring. 

But Link's writing also is different from most science fiction and fantasy. She consistently disappoints with her ability to create expectation and then wander off in another direction. The stories have little eternal logic. 

Dionysius, the god or drunk high poets, has found a priestess in Link. Her stories are votives to the unknown, casual attacks on our carefully constructed rules of narrative that we guard so jealously. We would believe, and every story that we allow ourselves to tell reinforces this, that we control our world, that it progresses through logic toward justice. In Link's stories we find a whimsy that if we are honest we must confess is a truth that is other. 

For me a contemporary application of this is the upcoming American election. Both candidates talk about their plan for the economy. They patiently explain how they will fix it, working out their logic in steps, promising progress, a victory through right policy. Nobody says the truth. The economy is a monster we pretend is our pet. When it bites us we make explanations, when it beshitteth all, we explain why, but we cannot teach him not to bite or train him to our household. No-one understands him, but he can destroy us. It is fickle, immensely complex, and gambols through our houses and floats in amongst the clouds. 

Which is just to say, Link is right to roughshod over our stories that insist on control, happy or at least logical endings. We don't know anything. Sometimes that can be a lot of fun.

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