Probably my least favorite “genre” is ungreat literary fiction. Great literary fiction — The Book of the New Sun, Quicksilver, The Cyberiad — that’s the shit. I love that stuff. But literary fiction without that spark of greatness is ponderous, dull, and sloggy. This isn’t the case for other genres — mediocre adventure fiction can still be fun, mediocre superhero comics are still page-turners, mediocre light fantasy is still enjoyable — which explains why, all things considered, I’d rather read a shitty David Eddings book than Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen .
Oh, Link’s book is unquestionably better than anything Eddings has ever written. She’s obviously a good writer, and her prose is confident and assured (it’s a huge contrast to read these genuinely well-written literary short stories so quickly after reading Gardner’s unsuccessful attempts at writing literary short stories — it makes his output look all the more amateurish in comparison, and totally validates his apparent focus on superb adventure novels). But the spark is missing: Her prose isn’t a joy to read in the way that the best writers can make it; and her stories, for all that they’re technically well-constructed, are strangely empty and unmoving. I found myself slogging through story after story about sex and death, generally written in a mystifying and detached way, without ever really giving any damn at all.
I expect there are people out there who read literary fiction the way that I read superhero comics — really loving the great ones, but still enjoying the bad ones — and those people will quite enjoy Kelly Link. (Based on the ecstatic and glowing cover blurbs, most literary-ish writers fall into this category.) But me? Not so much.