Only heroes and girl detectives go to the underworld on purpose.

I just finished Kelly Link’s collection, Stranger Things Happen this morning and oh man, it was so good. I think I’m beginning to really love her. Well, I do love her. Now I’m just at the stage of love where I’m a tad obsessive. I want to spend all my time with her. I want to know more. I want to know everything…

Then I want to go home and think about it. Let it sink in. I want to be at work, writing emails and elevator speeches, with her words still swimming in my head. I want to drive home watching the rows of things growing next to the rows of cars driving, with the tone and the impressions and the pictures and worlds her words created still hovering above me somewhere in my head or even out in the world.  I want to read it all! I want to know it all! I want my love to grow into something real, lasting, and meaningful, and dare I say it (oh yes, I dare, I always dare) beautiful!

I know, it’s totally creepy right. Well, Kelly Link can be creepy too so hopefully it works out.

But yes…

I read her newest collection Pretty Monsters, last month and finished it wanting more. (See the rant above.) I’m happy to say Stranger Things Happen (which is her first published collection) was great too. But it was so great I still want more.

Ha, so I just went and bought her other collection, Magic for Beginners and also, Trampoline,which is an anthology she edited with stories from a variety of fantasy writers. I’m very excited for their arrival. I have to say, I’ve never been a huge fantasy/sci fi/young adult fan but I’ve been flocking to these types of stories lately.

Kelly Link writes in a kind of a young adult/playful style with these wonderful lines like…

He yanked the lid up as fast and hard as he could, the way you would rip off a bandage if you suspected there were baby spiders hatching under it.

Any moment now I would realize I was really a robot. Or God.

There was nothing of light or enlightenment about Bethany’s hair. It knew nothing of hope, but it had desires and ambitions. It’s best not to speak of those ambitions.  As for the tattoo, it wanted to be left alone. And to be allowed to eat people, just every once in a while.

Which I think are completely delightful and make for fun reading.

But then there’s also this sadness just under the surface of things. Or maybe not sadness but simply realness and because of the tone everything seems to have more weight to me. There’s just this great tension.

It reminds me of an article/post I read a while back on the Millions, In Praise of Precocious Narrators, about books with young genius (or at least overly smart) narrators.

It talks about the young boys in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, and the girls in The History of Love and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. And I realized that a lot of these books and characters are some of my recent favorites.

One line that stood out to me was this…

And that’s what’s heartbreaking about these books: they put smart kids in the position to feel like they can, and should, come up with answers to some of life’s biggest questions.

I dunno, maybe it’s more poignant when simple language is used to describe complex things. Or when a childlike narrator or even just a childlike tone is trying to describe something experienced by adults. It is heartbreaking that these kids are asked to face such serious things. It’s heartbreaking when adults are asked to as well.

Maybe I’m just attracted to these types of stories because I still feel like a child in so many ways and their confusions and intentions, their interactions with and responses to the world are so close to my own.  We’ve all had those moments where we felt childlike in some way, and were forced to grow up and face some sort of reality before we wanted to.

But I’m also kind of immature. And really, I just like reading about girl detectives, aliens, ghosts, fairy tales, and silly things like boys who bury their poetry, girls who have maps on their feet, and men who cannot speak. These are fun stories to read. They’re entertaining and their plots are interesting and creative.

But they’re really not that silly. They’re rather serious actually.

I like stories that are fun and playful and that have a little magic. I like comedy. I like poetry. I like adventure. But I absolutely love it when that magic also speaks to a larger truth or life experience. When the magic, the fun, the adventure, or the poetry–the beauty and sadness–are the things that allow me to access a piece of the world I didn’t fully grasp before. I mean, come on…I love that shit! Everyone loves that shit. Don’t you just love that?

So yes, Kelly Link’s stories have been doing that for me recently. I highly recommend them. I know this concept of literature being both entertaining and enlightening is not a new one, but it’s always nice when you come across it being done well.

I only wish she had a novel because the way I experience a novel is so much different than a short story. I love my short stories, they are beautiful and compact and perfect in their own ways. But it’s different. It’s hard for me to dive too deeply into a short story. I just don’t lose myself in them the same way as I would with a novel. I get to the know the characters well and I identify with them but they don’t feel like my best friends, they don’t feel like a part of me.

Of course, Kelly Link may be proving me wrong. I did just call them, “my” short stories so they must have become a part of me somehow. And, who knows, maybe Link’s methods wouldn’t work as well in a larger form. I guess I’d just like to see her try. I wouldn’t mind losing myself in one of her novels.

Either way, you should read her.

Here are some of my favorite passages…

Your destination is North. The map that you are using is a mirror. You are always pulling the bits out of your bare feet, the pieces of the map that broke off and fell on the ground as the Snow Queen flew overhead in her sleigh. Where you are, where you are coming from , it is impossible to read on a map made of paper. If it were that easy then everyone would be a traveler. You have heard of other travellers whose maps are breadcrumbs, whose maps are stories, whose maps are the four winds, whose maps are yellow bricks laid one after the other. You read your map with your feet, and behind you somewhere there must be another traveller whose map is the bloody footprints that you are leaving behind you.

Think of the underworld as the back of your closet, behind all those racks of clothes that you don’t wear anymore. Things are always getting pushed back there and forgotten about. The underworld is full of things that you’ve forgotten about. Some of them, if only you could remember, you might want to take back. Trips to the underworld are always very nostalgic. It’s darker in there. The seasons don’t match. Mostly people end up there by accident, or else because in the end there was nowhere else to go. Only heroes and girl detectives go to the underworld on purpose.

“What’s in a name, hmm? After a while names are just souvenirs. Places you’ve been. Let me introduce you to some of my friends.” He waved towards the approaching crowd. “Mrs. Gomorrah over there, Mr. Belly of the Whale, Ms. Titanic, Little Miss Through the Looking-Glass, Mr. and Mrs. Really Bad Marriage, Mr. Over the Falls in a Wooden Barrel.” …The bearded man was practically gnashing his teeth, smiling ferociously. “I have seen snow and I have been hungry, and I have seen nothing in my travels that is so bad as not living.” I propose a toast, Mr. Todd.” They both raised their glasses. “To travel,” one said. “To life,” said the other.

This is one thing about Louise. She doesn’t like to sleep alone. She says that her bed is too big. Theres’ too much space. She needs someone to roll up against, or she just rolls around all night. Some mornings she wakes up on the floor. Mostly she wakes up with other people.

“Look,” the fortune-teller says. “You’ll have a good life. You don’t want all the details, do you? Go home, make wedding plans, get married. You should probably get married inside. I think it might rain. I’m not good at weather. You’ll be happy, I promise. I’m good at the happy stuff. It’s what I see best. You want to know about snoring, or breast cancer, or mortgages, go see the woman next door who reads tea leaves.”

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5 thoughts on “Only heroes and girl detectives go to the underworld on purpose.

  1. Pingback: 2010: The Year of the Short Story (for me anyway) « The Adventures of Megan and Blog

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