Thursday, September 01, 2005
August Reading #3

You have no choice but to love Kelly Link--starts her own press, does the book design, publishes books that are good--how can you not? Well, envy for one. But I was psyched once I got a look at Magic For Beginners, which, to read the blogs (or Jonathan Lethem) is even better than sliced bread.

I'm not a huge reader of short stories--the bad ones are terrible and the good ones feel like novels anyone. And I usually feel like story collections have one good story in them, and then diminishing variations on that one.

Which raises a question I have about story collections--how do you decide the order? Even the writer can't honestly think, like your first grade teacher that everyone is equally excellent, just different. Strong enough to be included is a lower bar than strong (and I think I have noted previously in this space, it is heartening to read some of the BAD Cheever, for example).

I say this because I hated the first story, The Faery Handbag, it was awkward, cloying, contrived. I put the book down. Buried it in the to-be-reads. Scornfully considered the hypocrisy of the glowing blurbers.

But I figured the whole starting-a-press thing warranted another story or two. Some Zombie Contingency Plans was much better--funny, lighter, still plenty odd, but more coherent. The Stone Animals, which was really excellent--amazing. And then a few others to see if they went in new directions, or if they felt like variations on the excellence of Stone Animals. I found them the latter--good--funny, sharp, very well-written, but none on a par with that one.

I wonder that about books too--how many authors write more than one real masterpiece? Some, but I often feel like authors write towards their one big book, and then away. Some feel like they never quite bring it into focus--write a series of books getting better and better, and then worse, as if they passed their mark without ever hitting it.

Which returns me to my question about balancing the stories within a collection. I'm sure there are schools of thought around it--that, like great rock albums back when albums mattered, there are whole complex structures of meaning across the arc of the stories that, read in order, add more pleasure to the mix. I don't read them in order, and don't often venture in at all, so disliking the first story made for rough sledding. But she's got a unique eye, and voice, and she's started her own press and the books are good. This one is good (3 stars)

Here's the opening of Stone Animals: "Henry asked a question. He was joking."


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