I read my first Kelly Link short story several years ago and completely fell in love. Nobody quite writes like this author! Pretty Monsters is Link’s first short story collection targeted towards young adults. These nine short stories are as charming as they are mind-bending. Attempting to guess how any of these stories will end is an act of futility as Link always takes you in unexpected directions. Although this book is aimed at young adults, the stories certainly do appeal to a larger audience as grown-ups will find a lot to enjoy here.
Pretty Monsters opens with “The Wrong Grave”, in which a teenage boy named Miles digs up what he believes to be his girlfriend’s grave in an attempt to recover poetry he had placed in her casket so he can submit it to a contest. Miles comes into trouble when he pulls out the titular “wrong grave” resulting in the wraith of some other dead girl.
This opening story serves as a great introduction to the weird and humorous tales that lay ahead in this book. I love how each of these stories has so much more beneath the surface. Behind all of the fantasy and magic, we are taken on highly emotional journeys that explore the nature of human relationships. Each story is told from the point-of-view of an adolescent and deals with an important step in the journey to adulthood. Some of the stories work better than others, as I found myself bored with some of them. However, I found myself constantly amazed by how Link can come up with some of her most bizarre ideas. Strange stories involving aliens, sporadic television shows, inherited phone booths, and werewolves fill this collection. Link definitely has a vivid imagination if nothing else.
I was slightly disappointed that two of the stories in this collection were ones I’ve read before, but they were two of my favorites so all is forgiven.“Magic for Beginners”, which won the 2005 Nebula Award for best Novella, originally appeared in Kelly Link’s most recent adult short fiction collection of the same name. This insane story about a fantasy television program is actually a touching story about a young boy coming to terms with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. “The Faery Handbag” was also included in Magic for Beginners. Genevieve spends her time scouring thrift stores for her grandmother Zofia’s handbag, a centuries-old purse that contains a world of fairies. Although it sounds completely ridiculous, this is another fun story with a touching message. As someone who loves being the fantasy world in new and different ways, I admire what Link achieves with narrative.
These stories touch on several genres, blending fantasy, fairy tales, horror, science fiction and drama in an incredible recipe. Link clearly has fun with removing all the rules of traditional narrative structure, as seen in the final story of this collection. “Pretty Monsters” is structured as a story within a story within a story. Together, two sisters read a story about a group of girls and the night they put two new girls through an ordeal. Interspersed within this narrative is the book one of the girls is reading about a girl who falls in love with an older boy. The supernatural doesn’t occur until near the end and when it does, you are left contemplating what you just read. Nobody quite sees the world the way Kelly Link does; she starts her readers along a familiar path which then twists and turns unexpectedly. There is never a complete resolution to a Kelly Link story. Often it just ends, and you are left picking up the pieces and forming your own conclusions.
Link may be a little too over-the-top in the weirdness category for some readers, but she definitely knows how to take you on some fun rides.