Kelly Link Returns with a Dreamlike, Profoundly Beautiful Novel

THE BOOK OF LOVE, by Kelly Link

A certain weight of expectation accrues on writers of short fiction who haven’t produced a novel, as if the short story were merely the larval stage of longer work. No matter how celebrated the author and her stories, how garlanded with prizes and grants, the sense persists: She will eventually graduate from the short form to the long. After an adolescence spent munching milkweed in increments of 10,000 words or less, she will come to her senses and build the chrysalis required for a novel to emerge, winged and tender, from within.

Now Kelly Link — an editor and publisher, a recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” and the author of five story collections, one of which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist — has produced a novel. Seven years in the making, “The Book of Love” — long, but never boring — enacts a transformation of a different kind: It is our world that must expand to accommodate it, we who must evolve our understanding of what a fantasy novel can be.

Reviewing “The Book of Love” feels like trying to describe a dream. It’s profoundly beautiful, provokes intense emotion, offers up what feel like rooted, incontrovertible truths — but as soon as one tries to repeat them, all that’s left are shapes and textures, the faint outlines of shifting terrain.

Still, here goes: Set in 2014, in a small Massachusetts town called Lovesend, “The Book of Love” is the story of three local teenagers (and one stowaway) who return from the dead and must compete for the prize of remaining alive by completing a series of magical tasks.

It’s the story of the parents, siblings and lovers of those teenagers, the people who mourned them for the year they were gone and now, magically, have had those memories of grief replaced: The teens were never dead, they were only studying abroad.

It’s the story of the wizard-priests who guard either side of the door to the world of the dead; one of them is the teens’ high school music teacher, who must now instruct them in magic if they’re to survive.

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