Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Stranger Things Happen



I am all about weird. I seek out the weird. However, I think I hit my weird quota with the short story collection Stranger Things Happen.

Kelly Link's collection of short stories goes to New York and beyond. What she does well is spin the yarn: I wasn't sure where the story was going, but I was game to follow Link's lead.

At first.

Then things got weird.

When a story concluded, I honestly had no idea what it meant. I was lost. It had to mean more than just the words on the page, or it would have been a colossal waste of time.

I was transfixed by the first story, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," where a man with major memory issues is writing a letter to his wife. As the story unfolded, I was transfixed. Many other storytellers tried to imagine this lost-feeling destination with limited success — but Link had a handle on it. Well, until the end approached, and while I saw where it was going, I didn't like it.

She retold a couple of fairy tales in "Travels With the Snow Queen" and "Shoe and Marriage," and she threw in some folklore with "Flying Lessons." All interesting tales, all successful beginnings, all faltered near the end for me.

The two most successful stories — "The Specialist's Hat" and "Survivor's Ball, or The Donner Party" — were more direct, more specific, told the tale to the end instead of letting go and making the reader try to follow the balloon into the atmosphere.

Why did I finish it? Well, it's not a good reason, but it is an explanation: I read it to the end because NPR recommended it. However, they also publish Nancy Pearl's recommendations, and I have yet to find a gem for me among her suggestions.

In the end, I cannot recommend the book as a whole. One or two stories may strike you, but don't feel obligated to read them all. Let me know what you think, and which stories you liked.

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