Best short story writer in America? —I don’t know; I haven’t been keeping up with American short stories these days. I did just finish the latest Kelly Link collection, though, and passed it on to the Spouse, and there is some little afterglow. It’s an album (of course), the one your friends are talking up and when you finally download it and unzip it and drop it into your mp3 player, you hover over play with some little skepticism, because it couldn’t possibly, but then you click and listen and yes, somehow, it does. Dreamlike, they’ll tell you, and I’ll tell you too, but you should maybe know that’s only how she gets where she’s going. Has nothing to do with what she does when she gets there.
“The Færy Handbag” breaks your heart, and “The Hortlak” chills it neatly, and “The Cannon” is as close as anyone’s got to Milorad Pavic in this language that I’ve seen; “Catskin” is as disconcerting as it was in a brown paper zine, and “Lull” is—“Lull” is. Wow.
And then there’s “Stone Animals,” which was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2005, and it’s the second-weakest piece in here, which maybe says something about where Kelly Link stands among the short story writers of America. (Oh, it’s as fiendishly clever as Matthew says, and it’s stuffed to the rafters with goodness, but it ends with the obverse of it was just a dream, and that’s never satisfying, no matter how you slice it.) (Though I am dragged back, and back again: the Journal excerpts a bit from Eddie Campbell’s truncated History of Humor, and it’s the panels where he’s trying to explain what’s funny about the marginal illuminations he’s showing his daughter. “Look,” he says. “They’re going to war.” “It’s not funny when humans do it,” she says. “Why should it be funny just because it’s rabbits?” Which it is, and it isn’t. Moving on—)
“The Great Divorce” is the weakest piece, but that’s okay; it’s a trifle, not meant to carry much weight. It’s the two pieces I haven’t mentioned yet you’ll want to be especially careful of. “Magic for Beginners” I left for last, because I read the opening lines first, and they—
Fox is a television character, and she isn’t dead yet. But she will be, soon. She’s a character on a television show called The Library. You’ve never seen The Library on TV, but I bet you wish you had.
—filled me with such a sudden ache of presque vu that I had to leave it until I’d read everything else. But it’s online, over here, so you don’t have to do what I did. Go, download, press play, see if it lives up to its hype: Did you watch Buffy with all your friends? Trade fansubbed tapes of Utena episodes? Are you obsessively trolling the TWoP boards for Veronica Mars clues? Do you download torrents of Battlestar Galactica as soon you can? —Well, that’s how she gets where she’s going with this one, and something of what it’s done to you when you get there.
And as for “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”—