For this week’s Short Tuesday, I switched away from the Kelly Link collection to a short story anthology called S.O.S.: Chilling Tales of Adventure on the High Seas. This is a pretty obscure anthology, with only one Goodreads rating and two Amazon reviews, so I’m excited to see it passes muster! Sometime soon I’ll tell you how I came to have this book in my collection… but not today.
The first story I read in the anthology was Stephen King’s “Survivor Type.” It’s a grisly tale about a surgeon with copious amounts of heroin marooned on a barren island, but I unfortunately can’t find a legal copy to link to, so I don’t want to dwell on it overlong—just know that I highly recommend it, but readers should have a strong stomach. 😉
The second story I read was Edgar Allan Poe’s “Manuscript Found in a Bottle.” It’s been forever since I read any Poe, so I was excited to jump in, but pretty much from the start I didn’t enjoy this story—heretical, I know, since Poe is an American literary legend. I found the story’s language too dense to be enjoyable (though now I know what simoom means!), and the plot was also… nonexistent? The story is more a description of an immense, fantastical ship than anything else. I can see a tie to modern weird fiction, though, which is unsurprising given that Poe spearheaded the movement.
One last interesting thing to note is that some critics believe Poe meant this story to satirize classic sea tales. Maybe that’s one reason it wasn’t working for me, since I don’t normally read sea tales, let alone older ones. I’m not writing off Edgar Allan Poe, of course—just simply don’t think “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” is the tale for me.
This week I read the third short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “The Specialist’s Hat.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.
Now that I’m three stories into the Kelly Link book, I’m starting to get a pretty good grasp of her style. I went into this anticipating I’d have little to no concrete answers at the end of this story, and I was right, but again I was left with that eerie, uncomfortable, awful things are happening in the background feeling that Link does so well.
One thing I did notice was the emphasis on the concrete, in particular the constant numbers throughout the text. The chandelier has “exactly 632 leaded crystals shaped like teardrops,” the house has eight chimneys, the twin main characters’ game has three rules. (A few things in the story even smell like Chanel No. 5.) And then there’s the difference between “gray” and “grey,” and “dead” and “Dead.” It feels like everything that is happening to the girls is so vague and creepy that they rely (subconsciously or otherwise) on numbers, definitions, and rules to define their slippery reality.
Overall, I can’t say I loved this story; I have the sense that it’s well-written, just not for me, or maybe not for me right now. It might have to do with the fact that I kept getting interrupted while reading, so I had to read the story in a very fractured way. In any case, I think I’m going to set down Stranger Things Happen for a week or two and try something else for next Tuesday.
This week I read the second short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.
I enjoyed this short story, though I do think I connected more with last week’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” I assume that the name of the short story is tied to the idiom “like water off a duck’s back,” meaning that harsh critique doesn’t have any effect on someone, but I’m struggling to connect that idiom to the story. Perhaps something to do with the black dogs’ constant, menacing presence? Or the MC’s steadfast commitment to his clearly odd relationship?
I think the thing I liked most about this story was the penetrating feeling of dread. You can just feel that the MC, Carroll, has embroiled himself in something bad, and you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. (My, we’re all about idioms today!) This is another story built more on mood than plot; don’t expect much to make sense, but if you want to read something vaguely uncomfortable and foreboding, I’m getting the sense that Kelly Link is your author.
One thing I’m wondering having read these two Link stories thus far is whether magical realism necessitates a more passive MC. Both MCs in these stories do things, but they’re not exactly the questioning type. Strange things happen (har har), and the characters just sort of mosey along through life, taking the oddities as they come. I haven’t read much magical realism save for Murakami, so it’s hard to say for certain, but I think it’s a trend that I’m noticing.