Book Review: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

“Stranger Things Happen” is a collection of short stories of an indescribable genre.  They are not quite ghost stories, but you get the feeling that they’re all supposed to be ghost stories or dreams or something else equally gossamer and fleeting.  I say this because most of the characters behave more like you’d expect ghosts to behave than real people.  Their minds flit about from one subject to the other without much resolution of anything.  All the stories read as a slightly structured stream of consciousness.  And then they end.  Next story.

The short story is the most difficult form of writing.  You need to be pithy while at the same time being verbose.  You need characters that readers are instantly invested in while not really saying much about the character.  It is a great balancing act that, when done right, produces the best fiction imaginable.  “Stranger Things Happen” doesn’t do that.  It’s one of those books where you recognize the talents of the author but the execution just doesn’t click.

All this could just be me.  I might not get it.  Kelly Link has won a few awards, including for some of the stories in “Stranger Things Happen”.  Take “Louise’s Ghost” for instance.  It won an Nebula Award for best novelette in 2001.  It was certainly the most story-y of the short stories.  This is more so because the two main characters were named Louise.  Much of the time is spent trying to figure out which Louise is being talked about in any given sentence.  It’s clever as a writing device, but that’s about all it is.  The story itself doesn’t accomplish anything, however.  There are the Louises and a hairy ghost and a girl who thinks she was once a dog and a bunch of cellists.  There are descriptions of the Louises’ love lives and attempts to get rid of the ghost and a death and then a flashback and the end.

It’s as if all the short stories are half finished ideas.  Or maybe half started ideas.  They are beginnings without ends or ends without beginnings or maybe meat without bread or style without substance.  “Stranger Things Happen” is certainly some sort of accomplishment but I can not for the life of me say what it accomplishes.  Maybe that’s the point.