March 3rd, 2006
|02:46 pm - Magic for Beginners|
Abigail N in her blog Asking the Wrong Questions, talks about 'Magic for Beginners' by Kelly Link which must (surely) be a shoo-in for the Nebula 'Best novella' Awards (some other candidates are also discussed)
I would really like it if people would read this story and tell me what they thought of it. I think you'll enjoy the read. It's kind of magical-realist, set in modern day America, and media fandom looms quite large as a magical activity (yes, strange, but it works).
A legal online version is linked above (I cut and paste to Word and print to read). It's longish. If you like it you can buy the collection it comes from (same name, Amazon here).
I really loved this story. I like stories where the final ground of meaning is rather undecided, so long as they are well written, and this is.
AN: "This is a complicated, confusing story, about the difference between fact and fiction, the connections between the two, and the way that we choose to believe in one and not the other. Or maybe it's about something else entirely... Link's fierce intelligence shines through every word, and that while I may not be able to explain "Magic for Beginners", I certainly do feel that the search for an explanation would be a worthy and fascinating endeavor ... "Magic for Beginners" is about 15-year-old Jeremy (yet another pitch-perfect teenage narrator), his parents' troubled marriage, and his close-knit circle of friends. Or, it could be about The Library, a pirate television series that the characters follow religiously. Or maybe Jeremy's in the television show. It's all very unclear, and very well written, not to mention whimsical and at times laugh-out-loud funny."
(NB - I have a recurrent dream about The Library, since I was young, which made this story kind of odd.)
What do I think of it? It's hands-down the best novella published last year. I keep planning to write something about it at some point, but every time I sit down to read it (three times so far), I keep getting distracted by the actual story of it; I can't do my normal reviewing-thing of abstracting somewhat. This seems to me a sign of how good it is.
Yes, it's quite a drenching story, and not something that's easy to translate into summary form. Some David Lynch films get me like that, you can't abstract back from them.
I would be interested to find out the opinions of people who may not read much SF, but do love media fandom, for instance, or people who read literary novels but not SF short stories.
Meant to say, I am interested how we sometimes pick out the same things to really like (this and Jonathan Strange for instance) and sometimes our tastes diverge madly (I really don't like The Sparrow, or the novel Coalescent actually). Not sure why.
One of us is clearly a big ol' wronghead. ;-)
I've been thinking about the story some more today, specifically about the way that Jeremy's fannish experience is so very familiar. I was only a member of that kind of obsessive fannish community once, when I was Jeremy's age and enthralled with The X-Files (these days, what fannish activity I engage in tends to happen online), but Link describes that communal experience perfectly - watching episodes with your friends as a social experience, analyzing the show obsessively until it becomes an important aspect of your life. It's part of what makes Link so appealing, I think - the way that she combines the familiar and mundane with the surreal and absurd.
It was X Files fandom I was thinking of (oh, because of 'Fox' I suppose in the first instance, and then it stuck). BTW I think it will take a while for any feedback on the story to emerge, because people will have to find time to read it.
she combines the familiar and mundane with the surreal and absurd.
Or you could say with the sacred and magical. In that respect like M John Harison, but generally optimistically instead of as a sort of infection of reality.
It's part of what makes Link so appealing, I think - the way that she combines the familiar and mundane with the surreal and absurd.
And I think it's important, or at least interesting, that it's things that are familiar to people like us. I'm sometimes a bit surprised by how well she's received in the mainstream, because some of her characterisation does seem to be rooted deeply in non-mainstream values--in this case, as you say, fannishness. In a way I've gone in the opposite direction to you; my first fannish context was the internet, and as time goes on it's become increasingly a part of my real-world social life, but I get the same shock of recognition. The sense of community that comes from shared stories comes across very clearly.
I struggled to finish the story, to be honest. The narrative voice just didn't do it for me -- the use of second person threw me out of the story every time it was used and I really hated the way characters would think something then say that exact same thing. A shame really, because I thought that the concept could have been great (I found the ending a little weak too0.
Thanks very much for reading it though, particularly if it was a bit of a struggle. I have read a lot of online debates about 2nd person voice, in fanfiction and elsewhere., and I know it puts a lot of people off in a big way. I hadn't thought of that aspect.
I think it's important to read outside comfort groups sometimes, and as I expect people to take a chance on some of my writing, I need to do the same even more.