Pretty Monsters (Kelly Link)

Pretty Monsters is a short story collection by Kelly Link, with illustrations by Shaun Tan.

Pretty Monsters is a wonderful collection, sometimes eerie, sometimes funny and always beautifully written. All stories are fantastic/science-fictional but all in very different ways, showing the (apparent) ease with which Link changes styles and narrative voices. She’s also really good at balancing humor and big (and often sad) issues. Tan’s illustrations (at the beginning of each story) perfectly capture the atmospheres as well. I might not have liked all the stories equally well, but there was no story I didn’t like.

After the jump more about each of the stories.


The Wrong Grave

When his girlfriend died, he thought it was a beautiful idea to bury the only copy of a poem he had written for her with her. But now he really needs that poem. She’d understand that he has to dig her up. But when he opens the casket, the girl inside is much less dead and much less his girlfriend than he expected.

The Wrong Grave has an absolutely sardonic sense of humor. It’s a joy to read and made me grin a lot. Sometimes it’s also a little scary but not much, just enough to make it not too much camp.

The Wizards of Perfil

Onion lives with the family of his cousin Halsa, but things aren’t going too well. When a servant of the wizards offer to buy one of the children for the wizards, Onion’s aunt reluctantly agrees. At first it seems that Onion will be the one taken, but at the last minute, the servant chooses Halsa instead. But since both Onion and Halsa have some abilities, they stay in touch with each other on their further travels, much to their annoyance.

The twist at the end of the story was a little obvious but there is so much to the story and Link throws so many ideas at the reader that it doesn’t matter a low. Its prose continues to be beautiful.

Magic for Beginners

The Library is a cult TV show. It stars Fox and it all takes place in a Library as big as a world. One never knows when the next episode will come on. Jeremy and his friends are fans. But then Fox apparently dies on the show and afterwards contacts Jeremy to send him on a mission.

Magic for Beginners is full of various meta-layers and wonderfully weird characters that you can’t help but like and it’s awesome. Also, I really want to watch The Library now – can we please make that happen?

prettymonsters2The Faery Handbag

Genevieve’s grandmother recently died and she left Genevieve her furry handbag. But it isn’t just any old purse – her grandmother has been taking care of an entire world full of faeries inside the bag.

How many ideas can one person have? Obviously a lot, because again Link conjures up a completely different world. I loved the ideas here, though I did hope for more resolution to the story.

The Specialist’s Hat

Twin girls move into a haunted castle with their preoccupied father. They spend their time playing Dead, a game they invented after their mother’s death. When they get a new babysitter, she joins into their game but not without telling them about The Specialist’s Hat first.

The Specialist’s Hat was a really creepy story that has a lot more to it than it might seem at first glance. It gave me goosebumps and is worth looking at more closely.


The summer camp is coming to a close. All that’s missing for the group of boys is the overnight camping in the woods. Something that James isn’t really looking forward to. But then the camp in general hasn’t been his thing and he has remained a loner. But even James couldn’t anticipate how bad camping would go – who could have predicted a monster turning up?

Monster is probably my favorite from the collection. It’s really, really scary and creeped me out, although it is not without a sense of humor. In any case, it’s certainly a smart story.

prettymonsters1The Surfer

After a flu outbreak, Dorn is brought to Costa Rica by his father where they are supposed to start working for Hans Bliss, alien abductee extraordinaire. But instead they get stuck in quarantine, waiting for something to happen.

The Surfer was funny and entertaining. I loved Dorn’s voice – I thought it was very accurate for a teenage boy. But I especially loved Naomi and the happy end to her story. Also, there is so much detail to the world, I always admire that when it comes to world-building.

The Constable of Abal

Ozma and her mother Zilla deal with ghosts, exorcising them where necessary, binding them where called for and sometimes even creating them: recently, Zilly killes the Constable of Abal and Ozma decided to capture his ghost. The two of them have to leave Abal though and Zilla decides to take Ozma home, where Ozma has never been.

Talk about detailed world-building! The Constable of Abal is even more detailed than the Surfer and even more extraordinay, featuring ghosts, gods and genderswapping, among other things. I also did not see that ending coming. I really liked it.

prettymonsters3Pretty Monsters

Lee and her friends take the new arrivals in their school Czigany and Parci to the “ordeal” – a rite of passage for the girls in their school. At the same time Lee is reading a book about Clementine who is very much in love with Cabell.

I wanted more of the story, especially a little more ending, but otherwise I have really no complaints about it. It has an interesting, interlocking structure, of which I would have liked to see more as well.

The Cinderella Game

Peter and Darcy are newly made step siblings. Alone at home, they play the game of the evil stepsister and evil cinderella.

The Cinderella Game was maybe the weakest entry in the collection, making it fizzle out rather than go out with a bang. But it wasn’t uncreepy.

prettymonsters4Summarizing: Fantastic and wonderful.

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