Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press; $24). Link's second collection has a McSweeney's-like tendency to digress, but does so without irony. Whether describing witches filled with ants that carry pieces of time, or an orange-juice-colored corduroy couch that looks as if it "has just escaped from a maximum security prison for criminally insane furniture," these stories examine American middle- and lower-middle-class life from unexpected angles that mix fairy tale, science fiction, and zaniness. In Link's worlds, a village takes refuge in a magical handbag, and a convenience store serves zombies as an experiment in retail. Two stories with zombies is perhaps too many, though the first effectively marries humor and horror. Reading Link, one has a sense that sometimes a person needs to wander off for a better perspective, and sometimes a person simply needs to wander off.

A Sudden Country, by Karen Fisher (Random House; $24.95). Starting with a few facts of her own ancestors' migration to Oregon, in 1847, Fisher has written a deeply affecting account of the journey West. Lucy Mitchell is travelling--much against her wishes--with her second husband and children from both marriages. The family hires as its driver James MacLaren, a former Hudson Bay Company cartographer and trader accustomed to hardship,yet freshly stung by greater loss than any of them imagine. Both Lucy and James are rich, complex characters, and each feels the other's pull among the many needs, duties, and persistent ghosts of the journey. The writing is assured, and the novel succeeds in rendering not only the overwhelming landscape and the small, hard details of daily life but monumental sorrow and the meanderings of love in its many channels.

The People's Tycoon, by Steven Watts (Knopf; $30). By the early nineteentwenties, half of all cars on the road were Ford Model Ts, and Henry Ford was one of the most widely quoted men in America. …

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