Stranger Things Happen is a collection of short stories by author Kelly Link, who as well as being known for her stories also manages small publishing company Small Beer Press with her husband Gavin Grant, and is one of the editors of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series.
Link’s work is often categorised as Slipstream, mixing elements of sci fi, fantasy, horror, and realism. Stranger Things Happen was her first collection. I had read one or two stories from Link’s later collections before picking up Stranger Things Happen, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect.
Nick Mamatas made a post recently about people asking the question what is the point of this story?, and I must admit I can be guilty of this myself sometimes; Link’s stories quite often do not follow conventional lines of storytelling, and because of this I found myself early in the collection trying to decide if there was something I had missed, some extra meaning to the story, but this is more a failing on my part than any flaw in the work. Link often blurs the lines of fantasy and reality in a way that gives the stories a very dreamlike quality, and questions such as what part is real are irrelevant – something I had to remind myself.
The mixing of reality and fantasy is accomplished very well in a wide variety of ways by Link. In Travels with the Snow Queen, we have a retelling of the old fairy tale, which is at the same time the story of the emotional journey a woman goes through after her partner leaves her for another woman (“Ladies. Has it ever occured to you that fairy tales aren’t easy on the feet?”). Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water could be entirely mundane, or it could reveal the secret that all blond women are in fact aliens. Survivor’s Ball, or, The Donner Party, too contains nothing immediately identifiable as fantasy, but it is the tone of the story, and the strange, almost unreal quality of the events that gives it a sense of spooky horror.
The back cover of the book describes the stories as “quirky, spooky, and smart”, and I’m inclined to agree. They also seem to contain a light humour in the writing even when they tend to the spookier side of things. If you’re accustomed to traditional stories with a straightforward plot, you might find Link’s work takes a little to get accustomed to, but these are funny, clever, touching, and deeply strange works which I hope any reader can appreciate.