Far too many nights of my childhood were spent huddled under the covers, straining to read the pages before me with the weak aid of a flashlight. I punished my vision with stories about ghosts, dragons, and life on other planets. I forwent hours of sleep in order to spend more time in the world of Greek mythology or to unravel, along with Nancy Drew, the clue of the leaning chimney. The morning found me bleary-eyed and trembling, exhausted from the journey.
Stranger Things Happen trades off the fierceness and urgency of those stories we read in our youth. The collection’s author, Kelly Link, understands as no writer has in years how to harness the power of the fantastic, and it is more than simply exciting to witness her breath new life into the form. She pays homage to the masters while twisting and turning old tropes with the keenness of her wit and the freshness of her prose.
“Most of My Friends Are Two Thirds Water”, a hilarious account of an alien invasion of New York City, amalgamates Bradbury, Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick while managing to be a thing purely of its own invention: blond women, it turns out, are actually emissaries from an insidious extraterrestrial race. “Flying Lessons” is a stunningly executed riff off Greek mythology, imagining the ancient deities if they were all exiled to the contemporary United Kingdom and forced to use their peculiar talents to earn their keep. Link fuses the fairy tale genre with detective fiction in “The Girl Detective”, a story featuring a Carolyn Keene-inspired female sleuth who is forced to descend into the underworld in search of twelve dancing princesses.
The real genius of Link’s storytelling—and ultimately what makes great fantasy or science fiction great—is that in depicting the realm of the fantastic, it succeeds in making true and lasting comments about our own reality, about ourselves. Link’s metaphysical narratives are, at their heart, explorations of human relationships: their fragility and their strength, the darkness they stave off and the power they command. It was the prospect of solving these adult sorts of mysteries that kept me reading Stranger Things Happen long into the night.