Zombies are True
Link, Kelly. Magic for Beginners. Orlando: Harvest Books, 2006.
The nine stories in Kelly Link’s second collection are fantastic, meaning incredibly good and also containing elements of fantasy. They are innovative and down to earth, about people, the things people do and feel. Some of the most sparkling gems in this collection are “The Faery Handbag,” “The Hortlak” (my favorite), “Stone Animals,” and “Magic for Beginners.” The collection does not ostentatiously defy genre, but perhaps simply disregards the literary market’s desire for such superficial distinctions. Link’s style is confident and innovative, borrowing from various traditions, most notably fantasy, horror, and fairy tale—humbling and improbable vestiges of life, worlds that exist only between the covers of the book. But don’t all fictive worlds only exist in this capacity?
Link achieves the nearness and reality of the world by oscillating between the ultimately fantastic and the simple basic truth of human reaction and interaction, what is and what is not. In Link’s work, zombies exist as incidental, assimilated, mythic, harmless, feared, fictive, and real. Zombies, like haunted objects and animated cats, can be considered in their relation to action, to private thought, to the larger continuing world. In “The Faery Handbag,” as well as other tales in this collection, the shocking, inventive, and unfamiliar are crafted with beauty and a sensitivity to human interaction—attention to a character’s inner world as well as the outer. These crossings of people, in and out of each other’s minds and physical worlds, is what is real. In “Stone Animals,” Link explores this human interaction in a haunted, mysterious setting. The plot folds in on itself in repetition, similar to how time and interaction repeatedly fold in and out for the characters.
A reader of literary fiction may look askance at Link’s work, what has been called fantastic or fabulist, and wish to pass preliminary judgment based on preconceived notions of reality. But there are often opposite ways of getting at the truth, and in Magic for Beginners Link has bravely forged her own path, a path any open reader will be drawn through, surprised by, pleased by, amazed by, and ultimately affected by.