A dead girlfriend, a magical handbag, a hat with teeth, a famed alien encounter, and ghosts on leashes: these are the types of stories that Kelly Link writes about in Pretty Monsters. In the collection’s ten stories, the reader is introduced to a colorful host of characters, all narrated by children. But these aren’t ordinary children—they’re precocious, and oftentimes far more jaded by the magical possibilities of Link’s worlds. There’s casual conversations with a monster who likes to visit his former victims at their homes; a surfer-turned-alien-ambassador who preaches love and kindness in a post-apocalyptic world racked with flu epidemic; a group of friends so obsessed by a television show, The Library, that they possibly wish it into existence. Oh, and let’s not forget that one of our protagonists inherits a phone booth. Each story varies constantly in both texture and scene; you’d have to bedead not to enjoy it a little…
Kelly Link writes good fiction. Hers are the types of stories you only wished you had access to when you were ten years old, at a sleep-over, and racking your mind for the perfect ghost story. But that’s where her writing gets interesting: her stories are indefinable because they are so incredibly varied, so preposterously well-written that even her simplest story in the collection, which in my opinion, was “The Wrong Grave” refuses to labeled as a ghost story, entirely. They have heart and gumption and loud, bellowing voices. They are well researched, well imagined, and well executed.
Link doesn’t miss a beat in terms of dialogue and character description. For example, my favorite story in this collection was “The Constable of Abal” because I think it really illuminates her imaginative genius. She picks up on the little things, the out-of-the way sorts of fantasies that most of us would blunder through without a moment’s glance. In the story, the protagonist captures ghosts and fixes them to ribbons like pets, or balloons, which I find so perfectly lovely and strange: “A rich woman could change ghosts just as easily as changing her dress and to greater fashionable effect,” (280). It’s these types of instances that make Link so brilliant—she takes genre and spins it onto its head, infuses it with a great deal of literary fiction, and creates something beautiful and bizarre to read. She takes care with details, and oftentimes ends up surprising the reader in the direction of her stories, and I think that’s intentional and part of the fun. Her writing is playful, and all of her stories take place from a child’s point of view, which I believe to be necessary to the magic of her prose.
Don’t let the “genre” aspect of her stories scare you away. I promise you, these are the weirdest, funniest, most deeply unsettling in a flashlight-under-the-covers-sort-of-way stories that you’ll ever read. Despite a few of them being about the dead, they are full of vitality, a type of creativity that reminds you why the fairy tale exists in the first place.
Reviewed by M.B. Sellers
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 6/10/2010