Get in Trouble: Stories
by Kelly Link
Review by Benjamin Wald
Random House Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780804179683
Date: 03 February 2015 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A new Kelly Link collection is always a reason to celebrate, and Get in Trouble features some of Link's best work. Link is one of those rare authors whose reputation is built entirely on short stories; she has never published a novel, but her unique short fiction has garnered high praise from the likes of Michael Chabon and Neal Gaiman. The stories in this collection make use of genre tropes such as superheroes and pocket universes, but the focus of the stories are on the everyday lives of the confused, struggling, intensely human protagonists. The fantastical elements serve to disorient and displace the reader, making the world as uncertain and unsettling for us as it is for her protagonists.
In "Secret Identity", a young girl travels far from her hometown to pursue an online romance with a man who she met in an online game, and to whom she has lied about her age. The hotel she stays at is hosting a pair of conventions- one for dentists, the other for super heroes. The story combines contemporary worries about online dating with the timeless adolescent struggle to understand oneself and one's place in the world, alongside surreal descriptions of super heroes lounging around the convention center and auditioning for sidekicks. Somehow, the seemingly discordant elements merge to form a background sense of disorientation and strangeness, a sensation that perfectly mirrors the protagonists unease and uncertainty about her world.
"The Summer People" expertly combines a fairy tale with reflections on social class. Fran is the dirt-poor daughter of a caretaker for the houses of wealthy summer people who vacation in town. She is also the caretaker to a house of capricious supernatural beings, who grant random favors and demand bizarre services. The supernatural beings parallel the wealthy vacationers; both are difficult to understand, inconsistently helpful, and occasionally dangerous.
The final story in the collection, "Light", is my favorite in the collection. It crams so many zany ideas together. We have pocket universes, mainly used as tourist destinations or as places to retire to. Sleepers randomly appear, human looking but perpetually asleep and with no history or origin. Lindsey, the protagonist, has an extra shadow that she needs to prune with scissors. Her second shadow grew into a twin brother when she was younger, who is now almost as real as she is. Lindsay is a deeply unhappy and confused person. She is unsure how to deal with the world she finds herself in. However, it is not the fantastical elements of the world she has trouble with. She works at a facility that stores sleepers, and loves her strange mostly-real twin. Instead, it is the everyday matters of living and loving that escape her, showing by contrast how strange these seemingly commonplace features of the world really are.
The collection as a whole is impossible to generalize about. Beyond the stories I have mentioned, we have a story about a haunted spaceship, a story about an aging actor consumed by the famous vampire role he once played and the woman who was his on-screen love, and a story about a girl who covets her friends android boyfriend. No one else writes like Kelly Link, and these stories are a pleasure to read, one and all.