Magic for Beginners

Posted by : atcampbell | On : July 22, 2008

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

This meeting was held at A. T.’s home in north Austin. Eleven people attended. Our topic, Magic for Beginners, was a World Fantasy Award-nominated collection by Kelly Link. Three us had read Kelly Link previously. Nine started the book, and four finished.

One person had only read two stories: “Magic for Beginners” and “The Faery Handbag.” She thought both were delightful. It should be pointed out that both of these stories won major awards.

Another person read the entire book. She loved the way Kelly Link writes, but did not like any of the stories. This reader does not like magic realism, the tradition to which she feels Link aspires. She did like the ending of “Stone Animals”, but in general found the stories to be consistently depressing. This reader said she may pass the book on to a relative who seems interested, but does not plan to read Kelly Link again.

Another reader commented that he likes Link’s writing and he likes magic realism, but he felt these stories were missing some essential element. He suggested that maybe the author is too nice. There were several nifty bits in the writing, but could not see any of the stories had a point.

Yet another had met the author personally and likes her, but has a mixed impression of her work. She liked “The Faery Handbag” but did not like its “write your own ending” conclusion. She read several other stories and did not feel that they worked.

One person was simply in the wrong mood to read this book. She had been itching to read an action/adventure novel. She could see why this book’s stories would appeal to people who like “literary fiction,” but personally found too many of the book’s stories had inadequate endings.

Another liked the experimental nature of many of the stories. He felt more happens in these stories than in a lot of well-regarded New Wave sf.  He enjoyed the reading experience, and said he generally likes contemporary urban fantasy.

Another reader commented that these stories were “artsy and fartsy” and not at all to his taste. He does not enjoy weird fiction or horror. He thought “Stone Animals” had its good points, but otherwise the book did not appeal to him.

One person who doesn’t read much short fiction had mixed comments on the book. He thought the writing was good, but disliked the mysterious endings of many of the stories. His favorite story was “The Zombie Contingency Plan,” containing the wonderful quote “zombies are like Canadians.”

We briefly discussed similar writers, including Jonathan Carroll, Karen Joy Fowler, and Sean Stewart.

Overall our opinions on this book were mixed. Afterward, many of us had dinner at Culver’s. The food was good but service was disappointing.

— A. T. Campbell, III