Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link. First read. 266/266.
warnings: cissexism, not safe for public transit
I LOVE KELLY LINK. I did not love this collection very much. This lack of connection was a strange experience, because she is one of my absolute favorites, and if anyone ever said Should I read Pretty Monsters or Magic For Beginners? I would scream a single, ceaseless note of affirmation until they had bought and read both books. Her stories can really fit in any category from horror to fantasy to science fiction to paranormal, from loving and respecting the power of teenage girls to making creeping terror out of middle-class malaise.
This is the earliest collection of her stories (the most recent story being written in 2000). There’s more of the middle-class malaise than I’m strictly interested in. It’s also really, really straight, and as much as I like how often the straightness turns horrifying, I could do with less of it. I would not mind fewer scenes with erect straight cis guy penises and fewer vees of cis straight ladies’ crotches. I would not mind fewer plots that center around a man pursuing a woman he’s sexually interested in or a woman pursuing a man that she’s sexually interested. Even if it gets subverted by disinterest at the end or better options at the end or revenge all along. There’s a very literary fiction attitude towards sexuality in a lot of these stories–bored, slightly puerile, sexual without being sexy–which disappears for the most part in Link’s later works. The fact that horror hinges on it so consistently could rekindle my interest, but in fact makes me want even less of it.
One time someone has sex with another woman, I mean ONE TIME in the book, and the main character wonders, why if you were going to to would it be that woman? I don’t know, who cares, why is it weird at all? Twice female characters are accused of “actually being a man.” In “The Girl Detective” it’s hard to tell if this is simply a moment of reality-redirection (since you’re never entirely sure when and where and who you are talking to/about in a Kelly Link story). But it comes in the wake of another instance, in “Shoe and Marriage,” where the characters determine that a character is actually a man because they could see “his” penis. There’s also nothing in any of the stories to counteract the idea this very classic portrayal of trans women “tricking” people by saying they are women. This is disappointing. I don’t remember seeing anything like it in later Link, and I really hope it’s never there.
ETA: I realized after I posted this that the phrase “middle-class malaise” comes from the current prompt at First Line Magazine. I did not originate it. (GOOD LINE, GUYS.)