There’s a reason why movie theatres don’t encourage people to bring their goats.

I read Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link weeks ago and meant to blog about it before its 31 May release, unfortunately a strange encounter befell me, which could have jumped from the pages of Pretty Monsters.

shiny red apple by Dano on Flickr I met an old crone and she offered me an apple, the likes of which I had never seen before. Its ruby luster promised delicitude I’d never tasted, how could I refuse? And she wanted nothing in return. I took a bite, smiling my thanks for her generosity, but a nagging feeling of déjà vu tangled in the back of my mind. Then I fell into a deep sleep, perhaps never to wake again. No princes round here, but lucky for me a fallen angel texted me some lines from Danté’s Inferno. My phone has the loudest, most annoying txt noise ever. Sometimes it makes me jump if it’s near my ear. Obviously I woke up and Danté jolted that chunk of apple right out of my throat and I spat it on the ground. Danté’s good like that. Sheeba the sk8 dog* sniffed it, but she refuses to eat apple. So now I was awake and could blog again. If you’ve emailed me recently and are waiting desperately for a reply, now you know why I haven’t, but might one day.

After loving The Wrong Grave earlier in the year I was very excited to get my paws on Pretty Monsters, again with illustrations, sorry decorations, by Shaun Tan. The Australian editions are from Text Publishing. They’re publishing lots of cool US titles. Although we have to wait (2 years!?), they are much nicelyer produced with real white paper, not that grey crap they fob off on cheap US paperbacks, and bindings that stay bound – who’d o thought.

The stories have been published in various anthologies, except “Pretty Monsters,” but to have them together to read one after the other is a serving of sumptuous intensity, each with a scribbling from Shaun Tan. If you think his illustrations have anything to do with the quote from the story beneath them, don’t. You will only confuse yourself. Enjoy his interpretation, which may be different to your own. My fav decoration is from “Magic for Beginners” in The Wrong Grave. George Washington carries Fox in his arms across the dusty red landscape outside of the Free People’s World-Tree Library, her tail and ears tucked in his pockets. I’d like a tail.

Better run away, Darcy. Because evil Cinderella is coming to get you.

I don’t know why I read “The Cinderella Game” first. Because it was last and I needed some backwards in my life? Perhaps I had premonitions of fairytales in my future. I didn’t quite get it, but all I needed was some time for contemplation and the realization that the stories of Pretty Monsters don’t end with the last words. In that moment of space after the last word, you have to decide what happens. That’s when the real monsters come out. The more I think about “The Cinderella Game” the more I like it. It’s my second fav story of the collection.

Then I went to the beginning and read in the order the monsters wanted me to. I didn’t so much like “Monster,” not pretty enough. I had my fill of horror between age 13 and 14 when I went through the Stephen King phase (the terror I subjected myself to). What happens to Bungalow 6 is not pretty, but what do you expect when you go camping in the pouring rain?

It smelled worse than anything James had ever smelled before. Fish and kerosene and rotting maple syrup poured over him in waves. He tried not the breath.

“The Surfer” seems an innocuous a little tale. Ok so people are dying left, right and centre from flu, but flu does that from time to time, nothing supernatural bout it. I wondered if the monsters were the rather real ones we find on our side of the supernatural divide. I had another thought that they would show their beautiful faces after the last line, when there was a massing of a particular character which seemed somewhat menacing. The clever part of “The Surfer” is the inverting of the fortunes of the nations as we know them. Costa Rica is where every USian wants to escape to, by attending their great universities, marrying to gain citizenship, or just plain border hopping and hoping they won’t get shot. The US no longer quite as united and a place people would do anything to leave the appalling conditions they live under.

Tell me what you like best about our country. Is it the blatantly rigged elections, the lack of access to abortion, the shitty educational system?…Is it the health care, the most expensive and least effective health-care system in the world…Tell me about your job prospects, Dorn. Who would you just kill to work for? Wal-Mart, McDisneyUniverse, or some prison franchise?

This is where the monsters from our world come into play. Naomi describes the real US, in all its super-power glory.

How could I love you? How could I love a ghost? How could I love something that I have to keep hidden in my pocket?

“The Constable of Abal” was my favourite story in Pretty Monsters. It didn’t seem to have a monster in sight (ghosts who feed on blood aren’t monsters) and maybe I wanted my own ghost tied with a ribbon and hidden in my pocket. He’s a very pleasing ghost, despite being murdered. The monster reveals herself, but her monstrous behaviour was only due to boredom, easily solved when you know how.

The title story “Pretty Monsters” is a clever twining on two self-reflexive tales in which characters from each are reading the story of the other, sort of. L is the story of Lee and her friends, teenage girls who Lee’s aunt Dodo calls pretty monsters. She’s right because the Ordeal they subject their “friend” Czigany and her sister Parci to is awful. C is the story of Clementine, chasing an older boy since he saved her from drowning at 12, but he only ever thinks of her as the little girl she is. In L C the parts come together, and the monsters aren’t quite so pretty. L and C are sisters and not Lee or Clementine, but they know about both. Whether Lee and Clementine are characters in a story or not is something else to decide after the last words.

There were two girls in a room. They were reading a book…Look again, and the room is empty. The end of the story will have to wait.

When you’ve devoured these monsters, go to The Wrong Grave and find even more delights, in the realm of magic rather than monsters, and slightly more (only just) to my taste.

The Wrong Grave by Kelly Link Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link The Wrong Grave and Pretty Monsters have twin cover designs of enchanting origin from W.H. Chong. Marbled backgrounds, rats and spiders hunted by ravens, and monsters with nasty pupil-less eyes. The deer of The Wrong Grave isn’t quite as monstrous, but he has those eyes and cos I read The Wrong Grave a while back I can’t remember where he comes into things. I prefer the cover of The Wrong Grave because the marbling is green and blue, evil monsters aren’t staring at me and the rat on the shield is adorable. And of course, sparkly gets me every time. For those who aren’t so into sparkly, it’s understated and just makes the shield (where the deer’s head might have jumped from) look like a tarnished mirror.

What I don’t like about the covers has nothing to do with their design. How could anyone possibly think it was a good idea to put the exact same big-author-promo-blurbs, in the exact same spots, on different books? Ok so the ravens are flying in diff directions, but it’s still wrong on two books which would likely sit next to each other on the bookshop or library shelf. Here I was thinking promo blurbs were for individual titles, but I know nothing about how to sell a book, only how to read and be intoxicated by words and the spaces in between.

Photo credit: shiny red apple by Dano on Flickr

*We actually went for a sk8 the other week (wtf!?) but Sheebie refused to live up to her name and was more interested in the two other guys sk8ing. She has great taste and loves boys with boards.

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