Kelly Link’s newest short fiction collection Get in Trouble is not for the faint of heart. If you are expecting a fairytale, or surreal, gothic eeriness culminating in a relatively tangible and neat ending, you will get neither— even the most fantastical stories quickly turn into something else entirely. Link’s expert command of genre leaves you never quite sure what exactly you are reading.
For instance, an outright science fiction space mission to Proxima Centauri in “Two Houses” morphs into a retelling of a fictional English ghost story about a haunted house being rebuilt across oceans—a story within a story, a ghost story skirting sci-fi. Link’s weirdness springs from the spillover of modern day popular culture into her fantastical whimsy—where, for example, manufactured life-size vampires with real hair in “The New Boyfriend” have the ability to exist in our world of vampire media / fandom.
In “Secret Identity,” a sixteen-year-old girl pretending to be her older sister takes a day-long bus ride to meet up with her online boyfriend who is thirty-four-years old, but discovers a dentist and superhero conference instead, as well as a butter sculpture display in the kitchen freezer. In “Origin Story,” two characters named Bunnatine and Biscuit living in a Wizard of Oz-themed village talk very real thoughts about relationships and love in a very unreal place.
In “Valley of the Girls,” Link reimagines an Ancient Egypt where rich goth girls can try on size-four jeans and have stereo systems, complete with a walk-in closet in their burial chambers. The teenage Egyptians are more concerned with dating culture than pyramids, prayers to Anubis, or the embalming process that the protagonist, Tara, has participated in just once (and was too disgusted to attend again). Link challenges myth, history, and what is real—the girls give each other ancient funerary figurines for their pyramid dedication ceremonies (which are doubling as their sweet sixteen birthday parties). After some rumination, Tara retorts, “One day future archaeologists will know what life was like because some rich girls decided they wanted to build their own pyramids.”
It is this sharp, unsettling humor that continues to mark Link as a master of her craft. Her language is just as remarkable—she depicts “chalk and apricot anthills” and rain “shouting down in spit-warm gouts.” In “The Summer People,” Ophelia and Fran reminisce about a tiny silver minnow that they used to put in the bathtub when they were kids. (This moment of nostalgia takes place in the tenant house in which the largely unexplained, unseen “Summer People” live, only heightening its weird, charming power.) Ophelia asks if Fran still has the fish, to which she responds: “It only ever granted little wishes.” Link removes the fairytale-tinted glasses we have come to expect in order to reveal a whole new dreamscape, where magic can only grant “little wishes.” The unseen Summer People continue to request miscellaneous junk to create large-scale living room war reenactments, including mechanical dragons, airships, and toys they built themselves from scraps.
Dark and beautiful, Get in Trouble is Kelly Link at the height of her powers.
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: February 3, 2015