Sunday, May 6, 2007

Journeys into the Underworld

Last week I had an unusual experience reading Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link. For several years I've had this short story collection on my to-read list. I once picked it up in a store and read the final story, "The Girl Detective," in which Nancy Drew goes into the Underworld in search of her mother. I was befuddled by it then, so I forgot about the book until recently. What a mistake! First of all, the short stories in the book need to be read from start to finish in order. I underwent a 4-stage metamorphosis while reading them.

Stage 1: These stories are odd and very dark, but I like that. Wish the conclusions weren't so open-ended and morbid, though.
Stage 2: Hmmm. I'm not sure if I like these stories so much after all. Is she just trying to be random and vague? I'm confused. This might all be overrated.
Stage 3: Whoah. Didn't I just see that same phrase about a sugar packet in the previous story? Wasn't there another character a few stories back with the same teeth filed to sharp points? I just noticed the blurb on the back of the book: "They [the stories] all have happy endings. Every story contains a secret prize. Each story was written especially for you." I am getting hints of the prizes, and I think the happy endings depend on a changed perspective on the part of the reader. Where am I in the stories? I'm in each one somewhere. Oooh, excitement!
Stage 4: I'm finished. Man, was that good. I need to read it again. I'm still kind of stunned. I have a feeling I just skimmed the surface.

Okay, I'll admit this kind of reading experience isn't for everyone. A lot of folks will understandably get stuck in stage 2 and throw up their hands in consternation. Ickie doesn't appear to be enjoying it as much as I did, but I'm dark and twisted, whereas he's quite the pleasant, upstanding citizen (albeit gloriously sarcastic). The book's tone and mystery reminded me of Twin Peaks, Muholland Drive, and Donnie Darko, all of which held more allure for me than for Ickie.

While in Longfellow Books in Portland on Thursday, I noticed the staff had recommended Link's newest story collection, Magic for Beginners. I sat down and read the first story, "The Faery Handbag," which is entrancing! I'm not sure if the stories in this new collection are as closely and fascinatingly linked together as those in Stranger Things Happen, but I intend to read them all and find out.

You can read "The Faery Handbag" here. I'm going to go reread it yet again!

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