Magic for Beginners

I’m enjoying a delicious collection of short stories by Kelly Link called Magic for Beginners. Her eccentric characters and hip wit remind me of Elizabeth McCracken. These stories lure us into blurry places (simulateously mundane and fantastic) between genres. You can read the first story, "The Faery Handbag" and a sampling of her other stories online.

I’ll tempt you into her clever world with a couple of excerpts from “The Hortlak,” in which two characters work alternating shifts at a 24-hour convenience store (“Eric was night, and Batu was day.”) and a third, a woman named Charley (“the moon”) who works in an animal shelter, drops by the store frequently while out giving the dogs she has to euthanize one final ride in her car.

Batu said it was clear Charley had a great capacity for hating; and also a great capacity for love. Charley’s hatred was seasonal: in the months after Christmas, Christmas puppies started growing up. People got tired of trying to house-train them. All February, all March, Charley hated people. She hated people in December, too, just for practice.

Being in love, Batu said, like working retail, meant that you had to settle for being hated, at least part of the year. That was what the months after Christmas were all about. Neither system—not love, not retail—was perfect. When you looked at dogs, you saw this, that love didn’t work.

Batu said it was likely that Charley, both her person and her Chevy, were infested with dog ghosts…Nonhuman ghosts, he said, were the most difficult of all ghosts to dislodge, and dogs were worst of all. There is nothing as persistent, as loyal, as clingy as a dog.

“So you can see these ghosts?" Eric said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Batu said. “You can’t see that kind of ghost. You smell them.”

Batu had spent a lot of time reorganizing the candy aisle according to chewiness and meltiness. The week before, he had arranged it so that if you took the first letter of every candy, reading across from left to write, and then down, it spelled out the first sentence of To Kill a Mockingbird, and then also a line of Turkish poetry. Something about the moon.