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Kelly Link blows your mind all over again

Illustration for article titled Kelly Link blows your mind all over again

Kelly Link's latest short story sneaks up on you — at first you think it's just a concentrated dose of weirdness, a jarring head-trip like being suspended by your ankles over the ocean. But then her strange world-building starts to make sense, and you think the whole thing is becoming a demented thought experiment.


It's only when you get about two-thirds of the way through that you fully appreciate how sad and beautiful and poetic Link's "Valley of the Girls" really is. And by then it's got a hold of you. This is one of the coolest stories I've read in ages. It's part of the "Special YA Issue" of Subterranean Magazine, guest-edited by Gwenda Bond, which also features stories by Malinda Lo, Karen Joy Fowler, Tobias Buckell, Alaya Dawn Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan.

Here's my favorite passage from Link's story:

[Vyvian] is twice as rich as God. She's a year younger than us, but her pyramid is three times the size of [Hero]'s. She kisses like a fish, fucks like a wildebeest, and her hobby is breeding chimeras. Most of the estates around here have a real problem with unicorns now, thanks to [Vyvian]. They're territorial. You don't mess with them in mating season. I came up with this variation on French bullfighting, Taureux Piscine, except with unicorns. You got a point every time you and the unicorn were in the swimming pool together. We did Licorne Pasteque, too. Brought out a sidetable and a couple of chairs and set them up on the lawn. Cut up the watermelon and took turns. You can eat the watermelon, but only while you're sitting at the table. Meanwhile the unicorn is getting more and more pissed off that you're in its territory.

It was insanely awesome until the stupid unicorn broke its leg going into the pool, and somebody had to come and put a bullet in its head. Plus, the Olds got mad about one of the chairs. The unicorn splintered the back. Turned out to be an antique. Priceless.

"Do you remember how [Vyvian] cried and cried?" [Hero] says. Even this is part of the happy memory for [Hero]. She hates [Vyvian]. Why? Some boring reason. I forget the specifics. Here's the gist of it: [Hero] is fat. [Vyvian] is mean.


Read the whole thing at the link. [Subterranean Magazine]

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I feel like something of a jerk, but my mind was not blown by this piece, nor did I ever find it to be a head trip. Maybe I'm getting old, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I'm swiftly growing intolerant of contemporary weird fiction. I feel a need to differentiate between contemporary weird fiction—which seems to base itself entirely around oddity—and the classic weird of Lovecraft, Smith, et al. The latter always had a firm foundation of plot, character, and solid writing as a launching point, while contemporary weird often has none of the above.

Just as I don't see much artistry in people who splatter paint or other fluids across a canvas and allege the result to be to art, I don't see much skill in throwing down random words on a piece of paper, or bluntly writing about uncomfortable subjects just to disconcert your audience. There's a certain amount of skin required over the gristly bones and muscle of a piece. Take, for example, romance: put a little spice and silk in, and it's romantic; ignore those, and it's just "VAGINAS: THE BOOK."

This piece put me in mind of a recent and regrettable purchase I made at Barnes and Noble. Hungry for something terrifying and thrilling, I impulsively grabbed a book called "Poe's Children." It purported itself to be "horror," going so far as to claim itself as evidence that the future of horror was safe in the hands of the writers therein. Three stories in, I'd read about a raped woman who turned men into butterflies, a family that discovers a piece of slightly radioactive glass on a beach (to no ill effect), and a forgettable piece about Pan. In all of these pieces, it felt like the writers were trying to make people uncomfortable, but there was nothing really on the line, no sense of connection with the characters, no rise in my pulse.

I know I'm meandering here, so back to the point: I didn't feel much for this piece. It felt random and quirky, but not especially well-written. Am I missing the point, or was it actually just not very good?