Book Review: Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link

pretty_monsters_coverThis collection of short stories spans the genres of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. Some stories are established as supernatural from the first sentence, while others are seemingly normal until the twist ending. The stories make use of the Magical Realism genre, in which magical elements are present, but treated as a normal part of the characters’ world, and often not the main focus of the story. Magical realism stories are often intentionally ambiguous and leave it up to the reader whether the events were real or imagined, or never give an explanation of the existence of paranormal forces.

One story I particularly liked was “Magic For Beginners,” which follows teenager Jeremy through his parents’ divorce and discovery of family secrets. Jeremy and his friends were brought together by being avid fans of a television show called “The Library.” The show is brought up in several conversations, with the characters derailing uncomfortable topics by talking instead about the most recent episode. Gradually, the reader learns that “The Library” airs at random times on random channels, with commercials for nonexistent products and actors no one can identify, although the characters aren’t overly concerned by this. The abnormality culminates in “The Library’s” main character Fox, thought to be fictional, calling Jeremy and asking him to steal books for her so that she won’t die in the next episode. Jeremy completes his instructed mission but never talks face-to-face with Fox, and so the true origin of the phone calls and the possibility of her existence is never resolved.

Another one of my favorites was “The Surfer,” in which the adolescent protagonist’s father takes him to Costa Rica to escape a viral pandemic in the near future. They share a quarantine shelter with cult members who are waiting for the return of aliens that briefly visited their leader years ago. The reader sees that one confirmed visit from aliens has not changed the future world much, and the characters’ conversations about world politics, books, soccer, and the virus take up most of the story.

Overall, I liked this book. Some stories were confusing or too open-ended, but in others the minimalist ambiguity allowed by the short story format contributed to the narrative. The author’s descriptions are concise and vivid, and the existence of ghosts, aliens, or werewolves often takes a backseat to the characters’ coming-of-age stories. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys surreal fantasy and speculative fiction.

-Miranda C., 12th grade

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