Recent Reading: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Recently read Pretty Monsters, a collection of short stories by Kelly Link.  She’s one of the most interesting writers working in the fantasy, sf, horror, weird and slipstream/interstitial loose conglomeration of genres.

This is Link’s third story collection (she has not yet written a novel, though her stories are acclaimed), and her first geared toward a “young adult” audience.  It incorporates stories from her first two collections, in fact my favorite stories here were already familiar to me from her Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen collections.

The stories here waver between a slightly disturbing dreamlike weirdness reminiscent of David Lynch’s films, and a more whimsical, and at times humorous, fairy tale quality.  Link’s stories consistently have a casual, friendly narrative voice, and that’s a big part of their appeal.  It’s a lot like having a funny friend tell you a really interesting, weird story by a campfire.  There is a great deal of imagination and invention on display in these stories, and if any of the above sounds appealing, I’d definitely give Kelly Link a try….

But I’d start with one of her first two books instead, unless you’re a young reader.

Plot or Not?

Kelly Link is one of my favorite writers of weird fiction, slipstream, fantasy, horror, or whatever you want to call her stories. Her voice is always unique and her stories are consistently fresh and surprising. Some have criticized her work as essentially plotless, and that’s arguably true. Often the stories are more about observation and atmosphere, frequently surreal and dreamlike, and less about what happens. She’s always reminded me of David Lynch, but with a slightly more whimsical, childlike viewpoint.

I just started Link’s third story collection, Pretty Monsters, and came across a more conventional plot-driven story. It’s called “The Wizards of Perfil,” and it reads like first this happened and then this and then another thing. Just a bunch of events strung together. It ended up being not only my least favorite Kelly Link story, but might be the least compelling story I’ve read in the past year.

Not trying to pick on Kelly Link here. She’s still brilliant, and if she never wrote another story she’d go down as one of the most important genre writers of the past decade.

My point is that a creative person with an idiosyncratic approach that works ought to just keep following their path. If you’ve had success writing stories that emphasize mood and voice and attitude rather than plot — and those stories win awards and convince publishers to ask you for more stories — I’d say go with your strengths.

How many wonderfully weird musicians, writers and filmmakers have tripped all over themselves in a swerve toward the conventional? Don’t!