Harper Perennial, 2007, 210 p
This is a book of short stories by Link, who has won multiple awards for her fiction.
The Faery Handbag. Made by Genevieve’s grandmother from an old dog skin, the eponymous bag opens three ways. One is just a normal bag, another leads to a capacious land where centuries elapse while only a single night has passed outside the bag, a third contains the bag’s guardian (the dog whose skin it was made from – and who is not a happy bunny.) Told with such confidence that it even warns the reader not to believe a word of it and also comments on the art of storywriting, “It’s hard work telling everything in the right order,” Link’s skill here is to make sense of nonsense, logic out of the bizarre.
The Hortlak. Eric works with Batu at an All-Night Convenience Store. Eric likes Charley, a woman who drives past regularly with dogs about to be put down but he never talks to her and is jealous of the fact that Batu is teaching her Turkish. The store is close to Canada and has some Canadian customers but is also frequented by zombies from the Ausible Chasm just across the road. The blend of the mundane (the store and the talk of changing the face of retail) and the bizarre (the zombies and the ghosts of dogs Batu says haunt Charley’s car, which are nevertheless treated matter-of-factly) gives the story its frisson. And the Hortlak of the title? I have no idea. It’s never mentioned.
The Cannon. Couched as a question and answer dialogue this is about emm…. a cannon – from which people are shot into the air to fly for miles without apparently suffering any injuries.
Stone Animals. A couple and their two children move into a new house whose entrance is flanked by stone rabbits. As the lawn gradually fills with rabbits they come to feel everything is haunted.
Catskin. A tale of witches, and how they get their children, of revenge, of sewing people into catskins so that they take on the attributes of a cat, and which may, just may, have been written to enable a pun on the word pussy.
Some Zombie Contingency Plans. A former jailbird who thinks a lot about zombies, icebergs and art gatecrashes a party and takes the girl of the house into his confidence.
The Great Divorce. A man who is married to a dead woman – “It has only been in the last two decades that the living have been in the habit of marrying the dead, and it is still not common practice” – and has three dead children with her, wants a divorce, “Divorcing the dead is still less common.” He consults a medium – mediums know what the dead are like.
Magic for Beginners. A tale about Jeremy Mars, one of a group of teenagers who are avid fans of a magnificently bonkers and elusively scheduled TV show called The Library, but who themselves appear in episodes of the show. The story is beautifully written; about burgeoning sexuality, embarrassing parents, the highs and lows of friendship (and the characterisation is very good) but it doesn’t really go anywhere. (Except Las Vegas, where Jeremy’s mum has inherited a wedding chapel and a phone booth.) Contains the questionable assertion, “That’s the trouble about being a writer. You know how every story goes.”
Lull contains a tale within a tale within the tale, about a poker playing group, time running backwards and a cheerleader and the Devil.
Link is without doubt a stylist, but that style is unusual, full of meanderings and discursions, and never far from a core of disorientation. Oddness is the keynote of almost every sentence. Individually the stories would be intriguing and striking but one after the other they add up to a niggle about how Link’s world corresponds to the real one.
Pedant’s corner:- Bajadoz (Bajadoz?) sucessful (successful,) if you had to chose one (choose.)