Opening line: ‘All of this happened because a boy I once knew named Miles Sperry decided to go into the resurrectionist business and dig up the grave of his girlfriend.’ (‘The Wrong Grave’)
In this anthology by Kelly Link are ten stories of magic, the strange, and the surreal. Ranging from zombies to werewolves to aliens, no story is quite the same — which can sometimes happen in short story anthologies. However, they were all similar in one degree: they were forgettable. Granted, I’ve been chipping away at this anthology for over a year now, but looking through the table of contents I find I can’t remember what most of the stories are about. ‘The Wizards of Perfil’ jumps out at me as having an ending I liked, and ‘Magic for Beginners’ was interesting, though I wish it had gone farther. Most of the stories didn’t catch my attention really, except for two, near the end: ‘The Constable of Abal’ and the title story, ‘Pretty Monsters’. The latter novella had more time to develop the characters and story, and I enjoyed how the two seemingly unrelated story lines intertwined. Although the stories in this anthology were supposed to be bordering on horror stories, only this one held me in suspense near the end; the ‘horror’ in the others fell flat.
The contemporary stories set in ‘our time’ also run the risk of becoming dated very quickly, especially if you refer to mobile phones and tablets by their brand names, which Link sometimes does. There’s a reason you don’t often find references to current technology in fiction: by doing so you ground your text firmly in a specific date and time.
My favourite from the collection is ‘The Constable of Abal’, a story about a girl and ghosts and goddesses. ‘The Constable of Abal’ caught my imagination from start to finish and has stayed in my head since. I’d happily keep hold of Pretty Monsters for this story alone.