Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What I'm reading

Next to my laptop, their covers beguiling me away from work, are Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters and Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia.

Kelly writes spooky unpredictable stories that defy any attempt to marginalize them in genre or PhD dissertations. They're literary, they're fantasy. Think Alice Munro clog dancing with Stephen King. Her own list of subject matter covers it:
  • A phone booth in Las Vegas
  • Aliens
  • Unhelpful wizards
  • Possibly carnivorous sofas
  • A handbag with a village inside it
  • Tennessee Fainting Goats
  • Dueling librarians
  • A statue of George Washington
  • A boy named Onion
  • Pirates
  • An undead babysitter
  • A nationally-ranked soccer player
  • Shapeshifters
  • An unexpected campfire guest
Shaun has written and illustrated his patchwork homage to the suburban mindscape.

Strangely enough, Tan was tapped to do the small illustrations for Link's book and even weirder I happened to be at the World Fantasy Convention, in a hallway hovering near Tan, when a tall thin glam editor practically fell to her knees begging Shaun to do the spot drawings--I say begging because the words included "beg" but she was camp and regal about it--I believe the very ones I'm enjoying in Link's book. This kind of small coincidence makes the cost of going to such conventions feel necessary. In a bookish way. Yes, I viewed the conception of these spot drawings.

Of course, I was fearless enough to invite Tan to join my group of friends for dinner at that convention and he did. He is smart, well read, well spoken, and thoughtful. So if this makes me disposed to like his work, I admit a bias. Luckily Tan is so good at writing and drawing that his vision of suburban weirdness simply shines. His collection of stories, lavishly illustrated in a multitude of his styles, gives him a chance to play with magic realism in every possible way. My favorite may be the one about what happens to all the unpublished poems in the world. Told with scraps of paper with different handwriting and fonts, it lyrically balloons and finally disintegrates in a rain that scatters and pulps all those lost efforts. These scraps become accidental verse littering streets and lawns. He notes "no one will be able to explain the strange feeling of weightlessness or the private smile that remains long after the street sweepers have come and gone." Pretty much what I hope strangers walk away with after reading my words. And if that isn't poetry, what is? So yes, go get a copy of Tales from Outer Suburbia, meet the water buffalo that points to fortune, the exchange student from another planet, and the alternate realities that lurk around the sharpened corners of the suburban landscape.

Kelly writes so well I wish I could just borrow her brain. Borrow, not eat. She makes me want to pay attention to the odd thoughts and visions that hover between sleep and waking. She's mining them with finesse. Here's to Link and Tan. Or Tan and Link. Yum. Yum.

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