Kelly Link was this year’s international guest at Continuum 8. Her short fiction defies categories although it shares elements of magic realism, slipstream (a good category for uncategorisable non-realist fiction!) and urban fantasy. The contemporary and surreal, fantastical and fairytale co-exist in edgy, bitter-sweet stories about lost love, grief and relationship breakdowns.
Link has published three collections of short stories to date: Stranger Things Happen (2001), Magic for Beginners (2005) and Pretty Monsters (2008) – although the latter reprints earlier stories, with the exception of the title story, and is directed to the young adult market. She has won the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy awards – an impression listing!
What is so refreshing about this work is that Link never really loses the anchoring of the real world no despite the inclusion of zombies, magical handbags and sentinel rabbits into her stories. She manages to use the surreal elements to strengthen her explorations of contemporary malaise and isolation in a (mostly) seamlessly crafted way. The beguiled reader is coaxed into accepting and entering the story’s world.
This is really masterly storytelling. Although less literary, her work reminds me a little of Richard Brautigan and some of the early Peter Carey stories, but told through the lens of the twentieth-first century and in a female voice.
As a new writer, these stories can challenge your perception of what is allowed in short fiction. It’s always useful to try to analyse work which blurs the boundaries between one genre and another. Think, too, how these stories are anchored by their character-driven reality, even when that reality is slightly skewed into the fantastical.
I’ve found these stories inspiring and energizing – I hope you do to!