Get in Trouble: Stories
I have heard no small amount of praise for Kelly Link and her latest collection of short stories, from both professional reviewers and personal friends, and I felt that I had little choice but to pick it up when I saw it at the public library. And boy, I'm glad I did: I was rewarded with a reading experience that absolutely lives up to the hype. Link's ability to subtly combine the familiar and the fantastic is utterly sublime, and there is even a similar quality of detachment inherent in "The Lesson," the collection's only story that firmly takes place in our (known) reality. The remaining stories vary in their fealty to strict realism, from fairly believable worlds with a slight twist to strange futures with advanced technology, yet each contains at heart a fierce display of humanity. Moreover, Link knows exactly how and when to deploy exposition, often holding certain facts at bay to create a sense of detachment, a slight fog that readers will be pleased to become lost in. The resulting sense of mystery, combined with no small amount of wonder at the worlds she manages to immerse herself and her readers in, makes it obvious that Link is an absolute master of her craft.
There is no single common theme that unites the stories in Get in Trouble, but most rely at least in part on the surprising power of half-truths, dwelling on both the truths and the lies that are inherent in them. Whether her characters omit essential pieces of information to lighten themselves of a burden ("Summer People", "Origin Story"), overtly construct alternate identities and truths ("Secret Identity"), or lie to themselves to avoid confronting uncomfortable truths ("I Can See Right Through You"), they are held captive to the strange areas that arise between fact and fiction, much as Link herself straddles the line. Even those stories that are more overtly and thoroughly fantastic- such as "Valley of the Girls", "The New Boyfriend," and "Two Houses"- keep one foot solidly planted in the familiar, whether it be the painfully familiar hormonal pangs of adolescence or the uncertainty of life and truth itself in the age of postmodernism.
There is a latent power in Link's stories that isn't always evident at the outset; she gradually sinks your claws into you until you find, suddenly, that you are completely immersed in the worlds of her imagination. It is a subtle process that, I suspect, lends her stories much of their power. While many of these tales may immediately seem to jettison the reader into completely unfamiliar territory, their inner logic comes gradually to the fore, until even the most disorienting among them can become the most powerful ("Valley of the Girls" took me a while to figure out, but is the story that has made the deepest lasting impression on me). These aren't so much twist endings as logical outgrowths of the tenuous bonds that connect Link's worlds to our own, and it is an absolute pleasure to get lost in worlds that are as remarkably rich as those in many novels. Ultimately, much of what makes Kelly Link such a powerful and engrossing writer is the atmosphere that she creates within and between her stories, and I am eager to discover her back catalog and to read whatever she comes up with next. Link is, in short, impossibly good, and Get in Trouble has a certain indescribable quality about it, a combination of wonder and sadness that allows Link to touch on profound truths with shocking depth in continually surprising ways.