Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review - "Magic for Beginners" and "I Live With You"

I'm stepping back here to cover the 2005 Nebula winners. Kelly Link managed to get the incredibly rare double Nebula win that year for both the novella and novelette category with "The Fairy Handbag". Only Roger Zelazny with the first Nebulas and Connie Willis in the 1992 awards have managed to do that.

"Magic for Beginners"
by Kelly Link
2005 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

I have come to the conclusion that Kelly Link is an author that I will never like. When I first encountered her writing what struck me was how she overstuffed her story with random details intended to provide color that they stood out as random, meaningless nonsense. I got the impression of a story background done madlib style where she filled in a few nouns verbs and adjectives. "Magic for Beginners" isn't bad but I found Link's style distracting.

In a metatextually recursive television show a teenager is having trouble sorting out his feelings for the girls in his circle of friends. They're bound together by their love a strange, magical television show. His parent's marriage is in trouble and so when his mother inherits property she is determined to take her son away for several months to examine the inheritance.

Kelly does a good job with her cast of characters. Yes, they're also too conveniently quirky and unique but my feeling is that was an aspect of the characters within a television series conceit. Everyone is memorably strange except the lead and his initial love interest and they play their roles for the camera. Kelly portrays the fumbling missteps (not just sexual) in those teen relationships well and I liked her use of how a common bit of pop culture can tie people together.

My problems with the story is that Kelly spends the majority of it with what amounts to nonsense. Roughly half the story is about the television show that the kids watch which is occasionally metaphorical and too often just random noise. It's a forced attempt at whimsy and while a bit of it is useful for color packing a story thick with meaningless fluff gets on my nerves.

The phrase that comes to mind when I read Link's stories is "bargain basement Neil Gaiman". Gaiman uses many of the same techniques as Link but he typically uses them much more successfully. With Link I just find myself wishing she'd stop telling me about cursed gnomes living in hair and get back to the story.

"I Live With You"
by Carol Emshwiller
2005 Nebula Winner for Best Short Story

The narrator of "I Live With You" spotted a lonely aging woman in a book story and decided they looked somewhat alike. They followed the woman home and because no one ever notices the narrator was able to just follow her into the house and set up residence. The narrator (whose nature is never made clear; it's probably not human but it could be) lives in the woman's house and does small things to disrupt her life and gradually make her more uncomfortable within her own home. Eventually the narrator decides that the boring, day-to-day life of this woman has to change.

This story is fantastically creepy. Part of it is the ambiguous narrator shifts gears from pranking annoyance to menacing lurker from moment to moment. The taunting is runs from irritating to cruel and sometimes both. The home invasion aspect of it doesn't hurt either and it takes a particularly nasty turn toward the end of the story.

The harassment are something that every reader will be able to empathize with and at the same time recognize in their own lives. Did you misplace your keys or is something like that living with you and trying to screw up your life for its amusement? I enjoyed "I Live With You" quite a bit since it took that central concept of a complete violation of someone's life and presented it from the perspective of the monster doing it.