Literary Lady Lights: Kelly Link

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.

I recently sang Kelly’s praises over at The Film League, as part of our month on Dawn of the Dead:

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.

Hocus Pocus was really formative for me

Halloween is among my favorite holidays, and not because I love to dress up.  I have a deep and abiding passion for the monstrous, the creepy, and the outright terrifying.  Nothing makes me happier than to spend October curled up with the scariest books and movies I can find.

Previous years’ favorites have included Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” this true life account of a night in a haunted house from Southern Literary Messenger, “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” and “The Wrong Grave” by Kelly Link, John Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, silly/sublime tv show The Vampire Diaries, Neil Gaiman’s “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire” and The Graveyard Book, and Guillermo del Toro’s tremendous film El Espinazo del Diablo, just to choose a few.

It’s been rough trying to squeeze in a month’s worth of horror between classes and work, but I’ve still managed to dip into a few things.  So what am I loving this year?

The Wolfman, which is an enjoyable remake of the 1941 original that deposits all of our contemporary quirks and weirdnesses on the Victorian setting. I liked it primarily because I always like stories in which the supernatural gets all up in your science and rationality and sends it straight to hell.

Edith Wharton’s After Holbein.  Okay, I’m not done reading this yet, but Wharton is big around Skinny House these days, so we’re including it.

The Halloween episode of Community, quite possibly my new favorite episode of the show. Star Trek + zombies = forever win.

(And I will tell you what I did not love: Jennifer’s Body.  I was ready for the feminist horror to film to end all horror films, a complete revolution in the genre, and the positing of ultimate female power, finally, at last.  Instead I got a lurid display of female jealousy and the same old chicks-are-totally-crazy bullshit.  Serious disappointment, to say the least.)

And now that we’ve carved pumpkins and gotten a taste of serious autumn chill, we’re ready for trick-or-treaters and then the rapid descent into winter depression.

But first!  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention All Hallows Read, a new tradition in the making, in which we all give each other spooky books on or around October 31.  I gave my mom The Graveyard Book this year, but as it’s my signed first edition, I’ll be asking for it back.  Still, I think this could be much fun in the years to come.  (Don’t know if you could tell, but I can never get enough of sharing scary books.)

Happy Halloween, y’all!