Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

October 23, 2013

TMoRP Day 7 – Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (February)

My favourite short story from February was a novella, ‘Magic for Beginners’, from Kelly Link’s short story collection of the same name. I had a bit of an iffy relationship with the collection as a whole – Kelly Link’s stories (or at least the ones collected in this volume) are rambling, discursive and usually quite surreal narratives. Her language is beautiful. Her imagery is surprising and delightful as often as it’s dark. But the stories too often veered in unexpected and even random directions for me to completely satisfy me. On more than one story I liked where it started and disliked where it ended up. Admittedly most of them turned out to have quite strong story logic when I stopped to think about them, but that didn’t help during the act of reading.

‘Magic for Beginners’ is one such story, nesting layers of narrative inside one another so that each element seems to be a meta-commentary on the others. The thing is, what I found distracting in a number of the other stories was utterly compelling in this one. It’s the story of a boy named Jeremy who, along with his friends, is obsessed with a strange, surreal television program called The Library.

The show follows the adventures of Fox and the oddball inhabitants of the titular library, who encounter magician-pirates, magic books and the underground sea on the third floor. The episodes are broadcast out of order, most of the cast are never played by the same actors twice and the kids never know when the program will be shown. It’s compelling event television, in a way that probably won’t exist in a few years and consumes the lives of its young audience.

There’s much more to the plot of the story – the relationships between Jeremy and his friends, the thoughtlessness of his writer-father, a journey with his mother to wind up the affairs of a dead relative. Woven into all of that is the consuming mystery of what’s going on with The Library and what it might mean for Jeremy.

It’s a captivating, magical story that nails the way relationships build and change around (slightly obsessively) shared interests. How stories – especially beloved television shows, but any stories really – can provide an anchor when real life becomes overwhelming and confusing. It’s a story about how caring about stories can help you to care about people (and what can happen when they don’t). It’s amazing.

You can read ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link on the old F&SF site here (or buy the collection, why not?)

My runner-up choices for best story from February were:

  • Either ‘Isles of the Sun’ or ‘Significant Dust’ by Margo Lanagan, which I talked about in my review of her Cracklescape collection
  • Nick Mamatas’ ‘Hideous Interview with Brief Man’, which is a piece of cold, brutal Lovecraftiana that I think Doctor Clam would get a kick out of (from Fiddleblack #8)
  • ‘On the Arrival of the Paddle Steamer on the Docks of V—-‘ by Peter M. Ball, now no longer available on the sadly defunct Eclipse Online website, nor anywhere else as far as I can tell. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was pretty great.


  1. Oh man, I freakin’ love Kelly Link and all the stories in that collection.

    Comment by Patrick O'Duffy — October 23, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

  2. I loved the stories I loved, but I bounced hard off the ones I didn’t. But she’s an interesting writer. I’ll definitely follow up with her other collection one of these days.

    Comment by Lexifab — October 23, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

  3. Nice! “Honestly, I doubt that any philosopher can really answer any philosophical questions; all they can do is use language to rephrase philosophical questions in such a way that preclude the answers they’ve already decided to dislike and distrust.”

    Comment by Dr Clam — October 24, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

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