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Kelly Link has fantastic taste in jewelry.
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Kelly Link (born July 19, 1969) is an influential American writer of hard-to-classify short fiction which melts the line between genre and literary. Alternatively categorized as fabulism, slipstream, surrealism, or magical realism, her distinct style of writing gave her a cult writer status in the early years of her career, but has since gained wide recognition from both the genre and literary worlds. Her stories have won a Hugo Award, three Nebula Awards, and a World Fantasy Award, and she has also been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and was a 2018 recipient of the Macarthur "Genius" Grant. In 2015, Clarkesworld Magazine polled nearly a thousand writers about which authors most influenced their fiction; the top ten responses included Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, J. R. R. Tolkien... and Kelly Link.

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Link's stories are particularly famous (and polarizing) for their endings, which are a category of their own. Ranging from twist endings, Gainax endings, ambiguous endings, endings that feel like they end too soon or not at all, dream logic endings, puzzle box endings: a Kelly Link story is guaranteed to end in a way that's impossible to anticipate. Link has spoken at length about the thought she puts into her distinct endings, and in one interview said: "Making decisions about identity means shutting down certain story possibilities, but that’s true of every story: you make a series of decisions and you shut doors and you proceed along a narrowing path. At least that’s how I arrive at my endings... there’s a movement toward a very specific place."


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Her works provide examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: Practically Kelly Link's trademark. Many examples:
    • In The Faery Handbag, the story ends with it unclear whether Genevieve will ever find her grandmother's missing magical handbag and thus locate her boyfriend Jake, who has vanished into the miniature dimension inside it.
    • In The Specialist's Hat, it's unclear if the ending means that both twins are now dead and ghosts within their own home or if they're just taking a game too seriously, and it's equally unclear if the person with the voice of their father is the Specialist imitating his voice, or if it actually is their father after all.
    • Secret Identity ends without Billie, or the reader, ever finding out who is Paul Zell, and it's left unclear whether he's a superhero or a dentist or neither.
    • It is unclear in Two Houses if the ship they're on is even real after all, and whether they're all ghosts of a long-destroyed spaceship, or if the ship's AI just told them a particularly effective ghost story.

  • Babysitter from Hell: Zigzagged in The Specialist's Hat due to the story's Ambiguous Ending. Either the babysitter is a perfectly normal and lovely babysitter, or she's an undead spirit whose presence may doom the entire family and who possibly kills the twins she was babysitting by turning them into ghosts shortly before the story ends.

  • Bag of Holding: Grandmother Zofia's black handbag in The Faery Handbag doesn't just hold more than a bag reasonably should, it also contains at least two pocket worlds, big enough for people to live in. At different points in the story, some people come out of her handbag, and some people go in.

  • Betty and Veronica: Elizabeth and Talis in Magic for Beginners, to Jeremy. Angrily lampshaded by Karl, Jeremy's best friend who has a crush on Talis, and who is the only one in their friend group Genre Savvy enough to realize their lives follows the tropes of a high school slice-of-life TV show (because that's what their life is). Karl resents that he can already tell Jeremy will end up with the attentions of both Elizabeth and Talis, just because he's the The Protagonist of their universe and Karl is stuck in the supporting role of the Best Friend.

  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": An interesting take in The Game of Smash and Recovery where it uses the trope repeatedly, as a way to foreshadow that girl and boy might be just as misleading when describing the main characters.
    • The so-called vampires are, as it turns out, an alien species which, other than superficial similarities, is nothing like traditional vampires at all. (No bloodsucking is involved, and they are more a nuisance than any sort of threat.)
    • The Handmaidens which, as we find out, don't actually look anything like maidens.
    • The birthday cake that the Handmaidens make for Anat is... not a cake. Even though the story keeps calling it a cake.
    They have made a cake... Almost the size of Anat herself, and in fact it somewhat resembles Anat... Sleek and armored and very fast. They have to chase the cake around the room and then hold it until Oscar finds the panel in its side. There are a series of brightly colored wires, and because it’s Anat’s birthday, she gets to decide which one to cut.

  • Clingy Macguffin: The painting in Some Zombie Contingency Plans is a particularly unnerving version of this.

  • Cool Old Lady: Grandmother Zofia from The Faery Handbag is this in spades. Not only is she described as tall, beautiful, and looking like "a spy or a ballerina or a lady pirate or a rock star" (and also riding a bicycle everywhere), but she also has a magical handbag that leads to more than one pocket dimension.

  • The End of the World as We Know It: Inverted in Lull, where one of the nesting stories mentions that there was an apocalyptic event which ended the world. The catch is that, within this nesting story, time is going backwards... so it's implied that whatever apocalypse ended the world also triggered this new backwards chronology, which un-ended the world... and now, they're moving backwards, to an eventual apocalypse on the other side of time, whenever they reach the Big Bang.

  • The Fair Folk
    • The titular "summer people" of The Summer People are heavily implied to be a version of this.
    • In The Lady and the Fox, which itself is a variation on Tam Lin, the Lady is clearly this.
    • In The Faery Handbag, this is what the "people under the hill" are implied to be.

  • Fractured Fairy Tale
    • The White Cat's Divorce does this to the fairy tale of "The White Cat", combining a charming and cozy tone with such incongruous details as marijuana farms in Colorado and plastic surgery.
    • Travels with the Snow Queen is not only far more irreverent and sexual than the fairy tale it's based on but also ends with Gerda reaching the Snow Queen's palace and understanding she's not in love with Kay at all. The Snow Queen is sympathetic and offers Gerda a business proposal, which Gerda takes up happily.

  • Gainax Ending: Stone Animals ends with Henry mysteriously transformed into a miniature rabbit king about to wage war on his own house.

  • Haunted House: In Stone Animals, the house is explicitly haunted, in a way that is described as contagious. The feeling of wrongness and disassociation spreads to rooms and objects, and then eventually even individual family members.

  • Living Shadow: Alan from Light started out as Lindsay's living shadow, until he gradually grew more and more human-like and eventually became indistinguishable from other humans.

  • Living Statue: In Magic for Beginners, a statue of George Washington violently comes to life and does battle, and then later carries Fox onto the surface of Mars.

  • Nested Story: In a memorable example, Lull has three layers of nested stories.

  • Nested Story Reveal: In Pretty Monsters, the story alternates between Clementine's tale and Lee's tale, and it seems as if Lee is reading about Clementine's tale in a book, unaware how much this fictional book about werewolfishness is about to mirror her own reality. Then it turns out Lee's story is being read in a book as well. The true frame story (and what all the nested stories were about) is not what we thought at all.

  • No Ending: Many examples of this.
    • In her story Magic for Beginners, the story ends before Jeremy (and the reader) finds out if his actions revived Fox or not, and we never learn whether his parents will stay separated or if he'll return to his hometown and his friends.
    • Water Off a Black Dog's Back ends without Carroll having resolved the tension between himself and Mrs. Rook, and no answers are given on the mystery of what it meant when her black dog consumed his finger, and whether he and Rachel will be able to continue their relationship.
    • Catskin just... ends. There is no resolution for Small, or his siblings, or the witch. The story even leans into the non-ending, telling us abruptly that "This is the end of the story... There is no such thing as witches, and there is no such thing as cats, either, only people dressed up in catskin suits. They have their reasons..." (Since the story is all about abandonment and trauma, the ending makes sense in context.)
    • All the nesting stories of Lull end like this, with each person who is telling a nesting story halting their tale for outside reasons.
    • In The Hortlak, none of the mysteries around the zombies or Batu are resolved, and we never learn what Eric does after chasing Charley's car.
    • Both of the main (and, as it turns out, nested) stories of Pretty Monsters end abruptly without resolving the plot, landing instead on the open question of girlhood versus monstrosity.
    • Flying Lessons ends with June about to head to the underworld, and we never find out for sure whether she succeeds in retrieving Humphrey or not.

  • No Name Given: The narrator of Valley of the Girls never says what his name is, because he feels it belongs more to his Body Double than to him.

  • Not Blood Siblings: Justified in Valley of the Girls. The main characters are all rich teenagers whose parents have hired them Faces, essentially Body Doubles who act as their perfectly-behaved public relations stand-ins so that they don't have any embarrassing scandals (the kids themselves have implants which prevent them showing up on video or photographs). As a result:
    • The unnamed narrator's Face and his sister's Face fall in love, which is taboo from a PR standpoint even though they are explicitly two hired professionals (essentially, PR stunt doubles) who are not related at all.
    • The unnamed narrator himself is in love with his sister's Face, Tara, and he is driven to desperation not just over his unrequited love, but also over seeing Tara fall in love instead with his own likable, media-perfect Face instead of the actual him.

  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with Louise's Ghost which is about two friends, named Louise and Louise.

  • Our Demons Are Different:
    • The Devil appears in Lull, as a shy and awkward guest at the cheerleader's slumber party. He gets pulled into playing a round of "Seven Minutes In Heaven" with the cheerleader, who flirts and plays with his tail while they talk about memory and time.
    • The demon lover in I Can See Right Through You is not who you think it is.

  • Our Ghosts Are Different
    • The ghost in Louise's Ghost who haunts Louise's house is benign, uncommunicative, and seems hardly aware of Louise's presence. He is also corporeal, changes size constantly (at one point Louise finds him curled up asleep in her underwear drawer), and later he sprouts a head-to-toe layer of downy fur.
    • In The Great Divorce the living can meet, and fall in love with, and even marry ghosts. They can have children with them too, who may end up born as ghosts themselves.
    • In Two Houses, the entire sapient spaceship that the crew is living on may or may not be a ghost.
    • The New Boyfriend features hi-tech, life-sized, glorified-Ken-doll "Boyfriends", who can dance and kiss and even talk, in a limited chatbot way. They are all the rage among teen girls with money. There is a Vampire Boyfriend edition, and a Werewolf Boyfriend edition (with swappable wolf and human heads), and then a special, limited-edition Ghost Boyfriend. The plot kickstarts when Ainslie gets a Ghost Boyfriend for her birthday, and her jealous friend Immy inadvertently seeds him with an actual ghost. It doesn't become apparent to Immy until close to the end of the story that the Ghost Boyfriend has become actually haunted, though there are clues if you pay attention.

  • Our Vampires Are Different
    • The Game of Smash and Recovery has "vampires" whose skin is sensitive to light, so they go about in cloaks and hoods. They can glide, and they have pointy sharp teeth, and long white necks. Eventually the reader realizes they're not vampires at all but some alien species, nicknamed "vampires" by the colonists because of these superficial resemblances.
    • The New Boyfriend features a hi-tech, life-sized, glorified-Ken-doll "vampire boyfriend" available for teenage girls with money.

  • Our Werewolves Are Different
    • Pretty Monsters has three layers of narrative (one frame narrative, with two nested narratives inside it), and each layer is about werewolves in different ways.
    • The New Boyfriend features a hi-tech, life-sized, glorified-Ken-doll "werewolf boyfriend" available for teenage girls with money.
    • The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear can read like a slice-of-life autofiction story in the style of Rachel Cusk, about the author being stuck in an airport due to endless bureaucratic plane delays... until you realize that the narrator is a werewolf, and she is trying to charter a flight home so that she's safe in her house before she fully transforms.

  • Our Zombies Are Different: The zombies in The Hortlak are benign, non-disintegrating dead humans who wander into Eric's convenience store from the other side of the Chasm, always at night, when no other living humans are there. They never buy anything and can't communicate in a way that makes sense. Eric contemplates that when he dies he will probably become a zombie shopping at his own convenience store.

  • Recursive Reality
    • In The Faery Handbag, Grandmother Zofia's handbag can be opened in a way which leads to Baldeziwurlekistan, the village where she grew up in and which now lives on Narnia Time inside a miniature dimension within her handbag. But if you open it the wrong way... well, let's just say you don't want to meet the guardian of the other dimension it leads to, unless you like skinless dogs who lives in a "dark land that smells like blood" and whose howl makes blood comes out of your ears and nose.
    • Light casually mentions the existence of pocket universes that have started popping up recently, and pocket universes within those pocket universes, so that you can keep going down and down, into more and more pocket universes, and never need to come out again.

  • Screw Yourself: In Valley of the Girls Stevie is in love with her Face, aka her Body Double.

  • Show Within a Show: In the story Magic for Beginners, the protagonist Jeremy is a character on a television show called The Library who (along with his friends) is obsessed with a television show titled... The Library. Jeremy's show is high school slice-of-life, whereas the show he and his friends obsess over is more like Doctor Who on acid.

  • Twist Ending:
    • Reconstructed in I Can See Right Through You, which spends forty pages being the sort of literary realism which has long disparaged twist endings and would never pull an O'Henry ending, considering them to be gauche. The story seems like it will end in a way you would expect this type of story to end... and then, comes the twist, and you have to rethink everything you just read.
    • In The Game of Smash and Recovery, it turns out that neither Oscar nor Anat were even really human, and everything Oscar told Anat about her world was a lie.
    • Lampshaded in The Wizards of Perfill which broadcasts its twist ending that they were the wizards all along from miles away, and almost parodies its own reveal when it happens in the last line of the story (since the story stopped being about that long before the end).
    • In Louise's Ghost, the title turns out to be about a different ghost than we thought. Both of the story's characters are named Louise... so the story isn't just named after the ghost who is haunting the first Louise, but also, as it turns out, named after after the ghost of the second Louise. She dies without warning right before the end.
    • The White Cat's Divorce riffs on the fairy tale "The White Cat" and sticks pretty close to the original up until the end, where it deviates sharply by having the White Cat reject the youngest son and marry his lecherous father instead, who she then beheads shortly into their marriage. It seems like a left turn until you catch the clues from earlier in the story that she was the ghost of the lecherous father's first wife, or, at least, her avenging angel.
    • In Some Zombie Contingency Plans, Soap seems likable and trustworthy, and like he was put in prison for reasons not really in his control. That's why it comes as a shock when he ends the story by kidnapping Carly's baby brother while she sleeps: we realize we should never have trusted him.

  • Wild Teen Party: The setting for Some Zombie Contingency Plans.
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