I discovered Kelly Link’s first collection of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, on the shelf at NYC’s Strand Bookstore in 2003. Having never heard her name before, I was drawn in by the Nancy Drew-esque cover and hooked by its enthralling, modernized fairy tales.
Since then, Link has written another two books of short stories (Magic for Beginners and one aimed at young adults called Small Monsters), has won big-name awards such as the Hugo for Best Novelette and the the Nebula for Best Novella, and has also edited multiple collections of sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk. Writers such as Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman are big fans of Link’s.
Her writing is a flawless blend of sci-fi, romance, realism, fairy tale, horror and everything in-between. Her new short story collection, Get in Trouble, leaves the reader constantly fumbling to situate themselves with each new world presented, but the process is so playful that it’s hard to get annoyed. Get In Trouble’s stories are set in realistic worlds that are populated by love-crossed actors, bitchy teenage girls and spoiled millionaires, but then strangeness drifts in until it becomes an elephant in the room.
Many of her stories contain meta discussions of stories inside stories, characters acting as characters. I Can See Right Through You could be ripped from the narrative of celebrity gossip sites, but really is about isolation and desperation. The Summer People feels like Flannery O’Conner writing Edgar Allen Poe, and it focuses on a burgeoning friendship between two young women as much as it veers into a kind of spooky The Secret Garden-meets-The People Under The Stairs. Link then throws some affecting strands about family relations, and you have my personal favourite of the collection. Then there’s Secret Identity, where Link switches between first-and-third-person on a near line-by-line basis, and gives us a teenage online-gaming addict who - by the end of her coming-of-age-story - may or may not one day end up a professional sidekick.
The collection also has some truly horrifying moments - Link doesn’t shy away from blood. The details are what make it truly affecting: the horror is genuinely horrible, the romance filled with yearning, the humour darkly hilarious.
Every word of Get in Trouble reads as if perfectly selected, and Link’s stories combine wit with weirdness and a hefty dose of poignancy. It is a well-worth-it read, but I won’t say more because to give away Link’s twists and turns would be unfortunate.