There are few contemporary authors that I follow with the same gusto as Kelly Link. There are, I think, few who are doing anything as interesting as Kelly is doing. Her particular brand of speculative fiction — so full of weirdness, and yet so familiar seeming — is not only highly readable but also highly addictive. Once you read the world through her eyes, it’s boring to go back to plain old reality.
Her style is spare and matter of fact; it reminds me of literary fiction writer Amy Hempel, who likewise utilizes short declarative sentences to great effect. (“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is the first and still the best Hempel short story I read. It’ll break your heart.) But Kelly’s understanding of youth, and the magical way it can feel, sets her apart for me; she combines the seriousness, writerly-ness of literary fiction with speculative and fantastical elements, without overdoing either. There is hope in her stories, along with the zombies, ghosts, wolf girls, fairies, and evil bunnies.
There isn’t a lot of gore in a Kelly Link short story. Nor is there a lot of blockbuster style action. And yet, for my money, no one gets closer to capturing the unmitigated eeriness of Romero’s zombie-infected world. These stories belong to the slowly lurching black and white nightmare of Night of the Living Dead, or the bizarre and panicked newsroom and the ravished tenement building of the first act of Dawn of the Dead.
Though I didn’t know it when I wrote that article, the connection has been made at least once before: WPR opened a horror segment, featuring Kelly, with a radio advertisement for the movie.
If you ask me, Kelly’s work deserves much more attention than it currently gets. Unfortunately, there was a break in her publishing — you can ready why here — and only a few stories have recently trickled out.
Many of Kelly’s stories are available to read for free at her site; I highly recommend “The Hortlak” and “The Faery Handbag” (which was, incidentally, the first Kelly Link short story I ever read, and the one that made me fall madly in love with her writing). Kelly is a champion of Creative Commons licensing, and has released several of her pieces, including her entire first story collection, Stranger Things Happen, for free online. (It no longer seems to be available through the website — possibly a technical difficulty that never got resolved — but if you hunt around the internet you can find it.)
She also runs Small Beer Press with her husband Gavin Grant, which has released some great books.