It took me about six or seven weeks to get to the end of this book, but this is of course not Kelly Link’s fault. The thing is, I’ve been in a transitional period this last two months and I was usually unable to pay proper attention to any book for more than 3 seconds, so most of the time I didn’t even try to read anything. I don’t like to stretch out a reading experience over such a long period of time, but I think in this case it was useful because it made me think about the longer-term effects of these stories.
I clearly remember that I liked every single story while I was reading it, but when I sat down to write about the book I suddenly realized that I can’t even recall the most basic details about the stories I read a month and a half ago – I only remember a couple of hazy details – details which are sometimes deeply unsettling, sometimes truly amazing, and sometimes heartbreaking. My memories about these stories are like the ones you have in the morning after a very strange or particularly vivid dream, and even though some details may stick with you for a long time, it’s usually impossible to summarize the whole “story” of the dream after a couple of hours.
And these stories are exactly like this – they are impossible to summarize or even clearly recall. This may be due to the fact that they are usually not very story-like: they are the unique combinations of elements you might recognize from the works of other fantasy authors, of bits and pieces coming from well-known fairy tales, and of random associations thrown upon one another – and the result is something which resists “rational” interpretations; something you can’t easily talk about.
In their resistance to being talked about, these stories remind me of Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Unicorn, of which a teacher of mine once said that it’s written in such a way that each sentence erases the preceding one, and each paragraph cancels out the meaning of the preceding paragraph, and even though you think you more or less understand what’s going on while you’re reading the novel, in the end you realize you don’t know/remember anything, and you have no idea what you’ve been through. And indeed – I read The Unicorn at least three times so far, and I know I consider it a great novel, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you why I think it’s great, or what’s so great about it. And this is no digression – Kelly Link’s short story collection is exactly like this.
And also, I can’t talk about these stories because of the author’s “style”. As I already mentioned, these stories often contain elements from other works of fiction I’m familiar with, or even if I don’t know the particular element itself, I recognize the way it was created/made up, and I can relate to it. Because even though the strange dreams, irrational trains of thoughts and random associations of Kelly Link’s characters are not like mine, in them I recognize the way my imagination works, even if mine comes up with different stories and different dreams. The difference between the author and me is that Kelly Link can describe these dreams/stories, while I can’t (or won’t). And the fact that she is able to capture the way human imagination works makes these stories strangely personal and intimate – I think every single reader will come up with hugely different interpretations, every reader will be affected by different aspects or details of these stories.
Sure, you can basically say this about every single book (disclaimer: I’m a secret fan of the reader response theory), but still – it’s usually possible to say something general or “universal” about a book, without having to revert to saying: “well, if you want to know what it’s like, then read it for yourself”. But this book is different, and this is really all I can say about it. Of course I could enumerate the details which affected me greatly, or I could explain (or try to) why I find a particular something especially heart-wrenching or bewildering or enchanting – but all these explanations would be about my inner workings, and not about the book. So really – read it for yourself if you want to know what this book is like.