Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Past We Haven't Met Yet Is Coming - #1

STORY: "Lull" by Kelly Link

FROM: MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS (Harcourt, 2005) - But you are very, very lucky that you can go download this whole book for free at Small Beer Press, founded in 2000 by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, who I assume must be blisteringly cool people.

BASICALLY: A matryoshka of a tale that's partly about a dissolving marriage, partly about a cheerleader who plays spin the bottle with the Devil, and partly about the erratic passage of time.

I can't think of a better author than Kelly Link to start off a weird and wonderful new year. She really fiddles with your brain. But it's a nearly impossible task I've set myself, trying to pin down a bizarre story that includes a poker game, teenage drug dealers, music that plays both forwards and backwards, screaming peacocks, a masterful storyteller who happens to be a phone sex operator, and a liberal manipulation of the continuity of time, yet (in spite of what I've said above) isn't really about any of those things. With Link, I think you just have to kind of hold your breath and keep reading and allow it to be nonsensical. In the end, it will make a kind of sense that you will not be able to explain, like an amazing dream that sounds flat and vaguely suggestive of Freudian themes when you recount it to the barista at Starbucks.

But I do want to look, at least, at what Link does with the passage of time in this story within a story within a story, because it is a super-cool trick. Not really a trick, even, because she tells you exactly what's up. This part of the story is told by the phone sex operator about a cheerleader:
This is the thing she likes about backwards. You start out with all the answers, and after a while, someone comes along and gives you the questions, but you don't have to answer them. You're already past that part. That was what was so nice about being married. Things got better and better until you hardly even knew each other anymore. And then you said good night and went out on a date, and after that you were just friends. It was easier that way--that's the dear, sweet, backwards way of the world.
So Link tells us outright that time is moving backwards, but that's not enough to really establish it in her story. How does someone portray the reverse passage of time in the forward movement of a story?