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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘It feels like anything might happen’: Kelly Link’s debut release ‘The Book of Love’ explores adolescence

Sharona Jacobs
Photo courtesy of Sharona Jacobs

On Feb. 19, at the Harvard Bookstore, Kelly Link’s serpent earrings and fierce literary determination foreshadowed the venomous secrets she was soon to bestow on her audience; yet, when approached by a devoted fan who had been following her on her novel release tour, that sinister facade immediately fell. 

Her easy laugh and intelligence quickly show why Link is revered as one of the most profound and sincere fantasy writers working today. Link’s collection of short stories, “Get in Trouble,” was chosen as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and in 2018 she received the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” 

Her novel, “The Book of Love,” was released on Feb. 13 by Random House and is a jaw-dropping 220,000 words. She said it was initially intended to be a trilogy, but is now condensed into a thick doorstop novel.

The story follows Laura, Daniel, and Mo, three teenagers who died but were temporarily resurrected by magic to uncover the mystery of their deaths. Tasked by their high school music teacher to perform several magical errands, they stumble desperately through love and friendship to unearth the mysteries of life, death, and love. 

When I spoke to Link over the phone the day after her event at the Harvard Bookstore, she was overwhelmingly sweet. She was on the call from her home in Western Massachusetts when her smoke alarms unexpectedly started to echo throughout her house. 

To keep our conversation uninterrupted, she simply stepped outside into the cold quiet to finish her sentence: “There’s nothing wrong about being kept awake … by an idea.” 

Her writing career took off after she started Small Beer Press, a fantasy and literary fiction publishing company she founded with her husband Gavin Grant. Her first collection of short stories, “Stranger Things Happen,” was published by Small Beer Press after the novel-centric publishing world rejected her stories and asked her to write a novel instead. 

After building her career on short stories, which few working writers can accomplish, she continues to make her way in the publishing world. 

“The things that are surprising to us in our work as writers [are] also going to potentially surprise our readers,” Link said. 

However, mastering the art of fantastical short stories didn’t satisfy her. 

“I thought, what are all the things you can’t … do in a short story? And I decided that I would do them,” she said in a conversation with author Paul Trembley at the book event on Monday. 

Each main character has a section of the novel from their perspective called a “book,” which gives readers three different perspectives and variations on how people and ghosts experience love.

In an excerpt from “The Book of Love,” the sister of one of the dead protagonists, Susannah, is frustrated: “Susannah lifts the Harmony over her head and brings it down hard on the corner of Laura’s desk. When this isn’t hard enough, she brings it down again and again.” 

Many of Link’s characters are adolescents shown in a constant struggle with their emotions. 

“You are both powerful and powerless … a space where it feels like anything might happen,” Link said. 

This translates to the bending of reality that takes place in her fantasy work.

Link’s stories demonstrate her extreme skill at standing out among a sea of famous fantasy writers. 

“Fantasy has to be strongly grounded in everyday life,” she said.

One adult fan in the audience said they had been following Link since middle school when they were assigned to read “Magic for Beginners” and fell in love with Link’s beautiful stories and precise language. 

Link has prepared an immersive world for her readers to devour. It’s both sinister and doesn’t have the constraints of young adult fiction. Her characters can swear, and Emily Lauer, a reviewer for Women Write About Comics, wrote that “The Book of Love” contains “explicit sex, drug use, and crime” that delineates from the young adult genre. 

She opened a bookstore in Easthampton, Massachusetts, where she selfishly orders collections of stories to sell in the store, and before they’re purchased, she “get[s] to read them in the meantime.” 

“As a writer when you’re deliberately engaging with things you enjoy, it brings along all of this incredibly useful material,” Link said. “Pleasure and delight are an incredible source of inspiration.”

While discussing the names of her characters and how she decides them, she said that character names are a place she often uses to further what’s in the narrative. 

“How do I make this thing that I’m writing open up … and suggest that there are stories that exist past the one I’m putting on the page,” Link said.

With “The Book of Love,” Link wanted to steer away from the short fiction she is known for. She said she liked the challenge of changing perspectives that were too large-scale to tackle in short fiction.

“[What] happens in the beginning in terms of magic is smaller and it snowballs,” she said. “There are a couple of things that … are probably the equivalent of a monster stomping through town … when I got to those scenes …  I thought …  this feels very plausible.”

In “The Book of Love,” Link reminds her readers of all ages of the highs and lows they experience and allows her fantasies to flourish in adolescence’s firmly grounded but confusing air. 

Link creates a strong community with her readers and fellow writers and doesn’t hesitate to deny how painful writing can be. She spoke about her active social media presence during the novel writing process and how it connected her with her readers. 

There was “a desire to not feel quite so lonely when I was working on a novel,” Link said.

On her purse, underneath a medium-sized painted tiger, reads “Creators of the future.” Link’s gushing fans and stories chock-full of eloquent passages, sometimes with snakes, make it clear that Link is not a serpent herself. Instead, she is one of fantasy’s most challenging and skillful creators working today.

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  • J

    John Smith / Mar 2, 2024 at 2:12 am

    I’ve read a couple of her stories and found them wonderfully creative. These insights and knowing her more personally encourage me to read more. Nice profile, thank you!