Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen was a cult (and Voice) favorite in 2001, and her new collection, Magic for Beginners, takes from the same mytho-pop breeding ground (the Brothers Grimm, WB channel teen empowerment, catechism-style unclassifiables). This time author and artist Shelley Jackson (The Melancholy of Anatomy) provides both jacket art and internal drawings, including one of a baggy, sad catskin for the story called “Catskin,” an unclassic tale of revenge for all and regeneration for some.
In a world of zombies, aliens, and ghost-dogs, domestic dissolution is seemingly still the problem of the times, pushing a few of the stories Anne Tyler–ward. Link does it sweetly, with wishful thinking on the brink of disaster, in “Lull,” where a cheerleader fated to live life backwards remembers (during a spin-the-bottle interlude in a closet with the Devil): “That was what was so nice about being married. Things got better and better until you hardly even knew each other any more. And then you said goodnight and went out on a date, and after that you were just friends.”
But this is just a story-within-the-stories, as told by a telephone girl named Starlight, from whom sex with a twist can be had (“it’s Stephen King and sci-fi and the Arabian Nights and Penthouse Letters all at once”). Though sometimes we’re left on one side of the liminal space, mostly the otherworldly nostalgia creeps closer to revolution. “It gets better,” the storyteller’s mantra, replicates in these pages, giving Link the right to keep going and going.