Book Reviewed: Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link
Kelly Link is one of those writers I really like but almost never recommend to others. Her work is too strange and requires a mind that likes puzzles and mysteries. It's not just an expression to say that Kelly Link isn't for everyone. So while I loved this book (her debut collection), I offer a caveat: You might not like it. You might even hate it. But if you're feeling adventurous and fully immerse yourself in Link's world, you'll be greatly rewarded.
Link's short stories blend elements of fairy tales and the supernatural with mundane human experiences. The weird and the heartbreaking exist in perfect harmony with one another. Loss and love stand right beside ghosts and gods. It's a strange world, but it's almost always beautiful. It helps that Link is a truly great writer. Her prose is pitch-perfect, and she knows what to describe and what to leave to the reader's imagination. It's hard to believe that Stranger Things Happen is her first book, as it is so well done.
Some of the stories here hit me harder than others, and I tended to like the stories with the strongest emotional underpinnings. My favorites in this collection include the Neil Gaiman-esque "Flying Lessons," which feels like an unknown section from American Gods. I also enjoyed "Louise's Ghost," which is one of the most bizarre and yet realistic pieces in the whole book, with a killer ending scene. It's a story about the lifelong friendship between two women, but it's also about death and longing and not being the person you want to be. It also features a small, hairy ghost that moves between cellos. This is what you get in a Kelly Link book, folks. My favorite story, though, is "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," which is the first in the collection and probably one of the less known works from it. In it, a dead man who can no longer remember his name writes letters to the wife whose name he also can't remember. As he tries to piece together what has happened to him, he writes of the guilt and love he carries with him from their relationship. It's really heartbreaking, and Link does a great job of getting right inside her lost narrator.
I enjoyed reading Stranger Things Happen. Kelly Link has only written two short story collections for adults and one for teens, but I wish she'd release something new every year. She's too good to be silent for too long.