31 Shots of Shock: #3 – ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link

31 Shots of Shock *Title: Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Date Read: 03 October 2009
Available Online?: NO – read from Kelly Link’s published collection, Pretty Monsters (Canongate Books)
Briefly: Based around Jeremy Mars and a close-knit group of friends who all have a passion for a TV series called The Library, Magic for Beginners joins Jeremy at the point where his mother has inherited an isolated phone booth on the state highway, together with a wedding chapel in Vegas, from her great aunt Cleo Baldrick. Seeing it as a good opportunity to take a break from life with her eccentric novel-writing husband Gordon Strangle Mars (Jeremy’s father), Jeremy’s mother invites him to join her on a trip to put her great aunt’s affairs in order.
Afterthoughts: If it’s Link’s goal to get weirder and weirder with her stories as the Pretty Monsters collection progresses, then she is succeeding admirably. Magic for Beginners is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever read, yet it’s also one of the most strangely compelling. It’s just a shame that again this is a non-horror story that doesn’t really fit in with the theme of my Shots of Shock reading challenge. With this third story in the collection now done and dusted, I know that I’m not the target reader that Link was aiming for with Pretty Monsters, but I certainly don’t feel completely excluded. Just don’t try to get me explain what this, or any of the other stories are actually about 🙂
Notable Quote: “Jeremy’s mother is a librarian. His father writes books. Jeremy reads biographies. He plays trombone in a marching band. He jumps hurdles while wearing a school tracksuit. Jeremy is also passionately addicted to a television show in which a renegade librarian and a magician named Fox is trying to save her world from thieves, murderers, cabalists, and pirates. Jeremy is a geek, although he’s a telegenic geek. Somebody should make a TV show about him.”

Rating: ★★★☆☆

*Story read as part of my 31 Shots of Shock reading challenge.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. This was another one that I would have liked a lot more as a full story. I almost feel like she is a lazy author … she takes all of the time to build the characters and their back-stories but then just drops in on them for a brief time instead of having to imagine a full plot. This story could have easily become an entire book.

    Also, did you understand how the title “Magic for Beginners” related to the story? I didn’t.

  2. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

    Or maybe Kristen, Link is quickly bailing herself out before a short story becomes something longer (although at 50+ pages I don’t consider them short per se).

    As for the title – a tenuous link between the The Librarian which contains magic etc. and the viewers who could be considered beginners of magic?