Get In Trouble

By Kelly Link

(Random House, $25, 352 pages)

Who is this author?

Kelly Link, born in Florida and now living in Northampton, Mass., with her husband, writer and editor Gavin Grant, has developed what amounts to an enthusiastic cult following for her clever sci-fi and fantasy works that derive from fairy tales or ghost stories, collected in Get in Trouble, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. She and Grant have co-edited many of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, and they also co-founded Small Beer Press, which in turn publishes the wonderfully named journal, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

What is this book about?

There are nine short stories in Get In Trouble, which begin with at least one foot in reality and deftly move into wondrous tales of speculative fiction. “The Summer People” is about an Appalachian girl who is the unhappy caretaker for a cottage used by mysterious beings from far, far away. She figures out a way to get free of their control, but learns that freedom comes with a price. In another, a suburban princess gets a life-size animated robot “ghost boyfriend’ doll for her birthday, with unfortunate consequences.  “Valley of the Girls” imagines that rich, spoiled kids (think Paris Hilton) can foil the paparazzi by using body doubles. Ghosts and vampires figure in several tales, but not in clichéd ways.  Stories are set in such places as an abandoned theme park and a hotel that is hosting simultaneous conventions of dentists and superheroes. But no matter what the setting, Link’s meticulously crafted tales will take you someplace you’ve never been before.

Why you’ll like it:

Link has a tremendously agile imagination, and she augments it with a devastating sense of humor. This wonderful combination has earned her comparisons with such admired writers as George Saunders and Karen Russell and Ray Bradbury and  Shirley Jackson – and I’d say there is no higher praise. Reading her accomplished work will tickle your brain as well as your funny bone.

What others are saying:

“[Link] crafts a beguiling and eerie blend of fairy tale, fantasy, Ray Bradbury, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a wonderful mélange of cyborg ghosts, evil twin shadows, Egyptian cotillions, and pixie-distilled moonshine. Guys, she’s really great,” says The Portland Mercury.

In a starred review, Kirkus says: “In stories as haunting as anything the Grimm brothers could have come up with, Link gooses the mundane with meaning and enchantment borrowed from myth, urban legend and genre fiction. Here are superheroes who, like minor characters from reality shows, attend conferences at the same hotels as dentists and hold auditions for sidekicks. Here, a Ouija board can tell you as much about your future as your guidance counselor. In “Two Houses,” six astronauts wake from suspended animation to while away the time telling ghost stories, although they may be ghosts themselves. In “I Can See Right Through You,” an actor past his prime, famous for his role as a vampire, yearns for the leading lady who has replaced him with a parade of eternally younger versions of what he once was—but who is the real demon lover? In “The New Boyfriend,” a teenager discontent with her living boyfriend toys with stealing her best friend’s birthday present, a limited edition Ghost Boyfriend, capable of Spectral Mode. In “Light,” Lindsey has two shadows, one of which long ago grew to become her almost-real twin brother. She contemplates a vacation on a “pocket universe,” a place “where the food and the air and the landscape seemed like something out of a book you’d read as a child; a brochure; a dream.” Lindsey could be describing Link’s own stories, creepy little wonders that open out into worlds far vaster than their shells. In a Link story, someone is always trying to escape and someone is always vanishing without a trace. Lovers are forever being stolen away like changelings, and when someone tells you he’ll never leave you, you should be very afraid. Exquisite, cruelly wise and the opposite of reassuring, these stories linger like dreams and will leave readers looking over their shoulders for their own ghosts.”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “These nine stories may begin in familiar territory—a birthday party, a theme park, a bar, a spaceship—but they quickly draw readers into an imaginative, disturbingly ominous world of realistic fantasy and unreal reality. Like Kafka hosting Saturday Night Live, Link mixes humor with existential dread. The first story, entitled “The Summer People,” in homage to Shirley Jackson, follows an Appalachian schoolgirl, abandoned by her moonshiner father, as she looks after a summer house occupied by mysterious beings. “I Can See Right Through You” features friends who, in their youth, were movie stars; now in middle age, she is the hostess and he is the guest star of a television show about hunting ghosts at a Florida nudist colony. “Origin Story” takes place in a deserted Land of Oz theme park; “Secret Identity” is set at a hotel where dentists and superheroes attend simultaneous conferences. Only in a Link story would you encounter Mann Man, a superhero with the powers of Thomas Mann, or visit a world with pools overrun by Disney mermaids. Details—a bruise-green sky, a Beretta dotted with Hello Kitty stickers—bring the unimaginable to unnerving life. Each carefully crafted tale forms its own pocket universe, at once ordinary (a teenage girl adores and resents her BFF) and bizarre (…therefore she tries to steal the BFF’s robot vampire boyfriend doll). Link’s characters, driven by yearning and obsession, not only get in trouble but seek trouble out—to spectacular effect.”

Says Library Journal:  “. . . Link’s fiction could be described as a combination of George Saunders’s eerie near-reality mixed with Amy Hempel’s badda-boom timing, plus a dose of Karen Russell’s otherworldly tropical sensibility. In short, the tales are imaginatively bizarre yet can be seen as allegorical representations of our own crazy modern world. Most of the protagonists here are female and resourceful; it’s a pleasure to immerse oneself in fantasy worlds where women aren’t victims or pale stereotypes.”

When is it available?

You won’t get in trouble if you borrow this book from the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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