Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I write about a short story available online. If you read the story, please add your thoughts in the comments!

“The Faery Handbag” is a story from Kelly Link’s second collection, Magic for Beginners. Since the reason I started doing this feature was that I wanted to write about another one of her stories, “The Wrong Grave”, it is fair enough that I’m writing about another of her stories just two months later. Right? Right.

Link nails the first-person narration, getting the voice of a teenage girl whose grandmother, Zofia, has died, whose boyfriend has disappeared into her grandmother’s handbag which itself has disappeared, and her attendant sorrow courses underneath the story. I love Link’s stories for the way they can bring together the mundane and the unbelievable and end up in a place that looks and feels enough like our world that I don’t for a second question any of it. The story opens with a description of trips the narrator used to take to a Boston thrift store with her friends, that favorite past time of the bored teenager:

We had this theory that you could learn how to tell, just by feeling, what color something was. For example, if you’re sitting on a lawn, you can tell what color green the grass is, with your eyes closed, depending on how silky-rubbery it feels. With clothing, stretchy velvet stuff always feels red when your eyes are closed, even if it’s not red. Natasha was always best at guessing colors, but Natasha is also best at cheating at games and not getting caught.

That the story opens in this surrounding of lost or forgotten or given-up things, with a discussion of the “life span” of clothes and handbags, is perfect, since the narrator’s search for her grandmother’s faery handbag can be felt even before we know it’s there. It’s better for you to read the story than for me to try summing it up, but as far as the handbag goes – it can be opened in one of three ways. One way it’s just a handbag, holding books or knitting needles; another way, “the wrong way,” is the skinless dog, guardian of the handbag; a third way opens to the residents of Zofia’s old village in Baldeziwurlekistan, and maybe Rustan, Zofia’s Russian husband, and maybe the narrator’s boyfriend.

The faery handbag: It’s huge and black and kind of hairy. Even when your eyes are closed, it feels black. As black as black ever gets, like if you touch it, your hand might get stuck in it, like tar or black quicksand or when you stretch out your hand at night, to turn on a light, but all you feel is darkness.

If you’re going to read just one story I write about, read this one. I’ll have a review of Magic for Beginners up in a couple weeks, but if you want to get ahead of yourself you can find a free download here, or better yet buy it.

Read “The Faery Handbag”

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I loved this story! I thought the description of the clothes at the beginning was immense :-) this is an awesome feature. I definitely don’t read enough short stories, and should read more, as they’re like a little tea – break from reality :-) thankyou!

Comment by Bex

awesome – it makes me so happy when people like these (occasionally weird) stories i link up to. and yeah, stories are the perfect little break from reality.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I really want to read a Kelly Link collection. Is there a particular one you would recommend?

Comment by Laura

i haven’t read her most recent collection, “pretty monsters,” so i can’t offer real advice there one way or the other. honestly, i don’t think you could go wrong with either “stranger things happen” or “magic for beginners.” i think there’s a little more traditional story structure going on in “magic for beginners,” but “stranger things happen” has one story with nancy drew (though i think she might just be called “the girl detective” or something throughout the story). more advice may be coming after i reread “stranger things happen,” which is probably going to be pretty soon.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I haven’t finished the story yet – I’m still on the first paragraph, actually – but I’m so excited to see The Garment District mentioned. It’s such a fun store to rummage through. On my last weekend trip to Boston, they were having an anniversary party and if you got there before noon, they gave you cake and coffee and mimosas.

Okay, on to the rest of the story!

Comment by ohemgillie

i just read an interview with kelly link – or maybe this was something she wrote on her website, i forget – and she mentioned the garment district and that she gets a lot of questions about whether it’s a real place. now i feel like if i go there one day i’ll somehow enter into her world, even though i would probably just buy about 10 pounds of clothes i don’t need.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Digging through the clothing by the pound section is an absurd amount of fun. It’s so easy to spend a few hours in the whole store, and feel like you’ve only been in there for a few minutes. It’s an interesting parallel with the passage of time inside the handbag.

Comment by ohemgillie

i like that. we had this place about 20 minutes from where i grew up in s. jersey that didn’t do clothes by the pound, but the classic “paper bag of clothes for $10” so i would spend all this time in there carefully folding up and jamming in clothes to fit as much as possible…and then end up with a bunch of blazers made for 5-year-old boys, shoes for grandmas, coats that looked like bathrobes. i was going to say this is the sort of american experience we should be exporting, but my host family shops at a store that does a similar deal sometimes. i guess the pleasures of buying clothes in bulk are universal.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I think one of my favorite parts of this story was the camera and the woozy photographic evidence. I had a lot of favorite parts.

Comment by trapunto

i like that part too. i had to stop myself from writing too much about this story, otherwise it would have turned into one of those posts where i’m quoting all but about two sentences.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

[…] Faery Handbag” is one of my favorites, which you’ve probably figured out since I gave it its own post a while back. The story is about a teenage girl whose grandmother, Zofia, has just died/disappeared […]

Pingback by Review: Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners « Fat Books & Thin Women

[…] choose just one, my two favorites of the year are Murray Dunlap’s “White Boy” and Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag.” (Side note: Kelly Link also wins the honor of being Most Featured Author, with three stories in the […]

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