The OF Blog: Kelly Link, Get in Trouble

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Kelly Link, Get in Trouble

Kelly Link has been one of my favorite short fiction writers ever since I read her debut collection, Stranger Things Happen, back in 2003.  There is something about her fiction that is hard to describe as a common thread, yet when reading individual stories, so frequently there comes a moment, often a twist of scene or turn of phrase, that makes that story easily identifiable as "a Kelly Link story."  Certainly there is a continuation of theme and narrative style across her three previous collection and it does crop up in her latest collection, Get in Trouble (due to be released in February).

Get in Trouble's nine stories (oddly, the ninth, "The Lesson," was left off of my e-ARC) often begin with a sentence that seems so outlandish, so off-center, that the reader is compelled to pay closer attention to what is transpiring.  For example, here is the beginning to "The Summer People":

Fran's daddy woke her up wielding a mister.  "Fran," he said, spritzing her like a wilted houseplant.  "Fran, honey.  Wakey wakey."
It is an interesting simile, which is immediately contrasted with descriptions of Fran's suffering from the flu ("head was stuffed with boiled wool and snot").  There is a deceptively simple narrative style, one that at times feels as though it were being narrated by a precocious child, in which the mundane and the weird are conflated, with no discernible boundaries between the twain.  This certainly is played up to great effect in "The Summer People," in which a seemingly ordinary, albeit slightly off-beat, father and daughter interaction ends up careening in a new, unexpected direction.  From a child's perspective, matters of heaven and hell might be as frightening as a thunderstorm or a lightning burst, but for adults reading this story, there are some startlingly frightful moments that seem to have been lurking just beneath the narrative surface before they quickly pop up.  However, what is really striking about "The Summer People," and by extension the majority of the other stories, is that Link elects to leave several narrative mysteries intact.  On occasion, these lack of narrative resolutions can be a bit frustrating, but in this story and the majority of the tales, these messy conclusions add to the narrative impact rather than detract from them.

A similar pattern can be seen with the second story, "I Can See Right Through You," which begins with this memorable paragraph:

When the sex tape happened and things went south with Fawn, the demon lover did what he always did.  He went to cry on Meggie's shoulder.  Girls like Fawn came and went, but Meggie would always be there.  Him and Meggie.  It was the talisman you kept in your pocket.  The one you couldn't lose.

Yet despite this similarly strange beginning, "I Can See Right Through You" differs in certain key respects from "The Summer People."  The tale is more risque, slightly erotic, yet this tale of faded fame feels more introspective than anything else.  It could almost be a tale of a woman or man in a mid-life crisis, if it weren't for the ghosts and demon lover.  Their presence alters the narrative, making it both a reflective tale and a social commentary that references both Perez Hilton and the supernatural.  Link manages to strike a fine balance between the whimsical and the serious here, as each time it seems the story might be getting too silly, there is a sobering reference to addictions or suicide to restore a morose balance.

This mixture of playfulness and direct, forthright accounts of lives altered is present, more or less, in the other stories.  At times, such as in the Wizard of Oz-related "Origin Story," it almost becomes a bit too odd, although seeing a reference to a superhero called "Mann Man," with all the powers of Thomas Mann, did crack me up a bit.  The only real shortcomings of Get in Trouble, besides the over familiarity that some readers might have with the narrative arcs, concern the collection's length.  It just feels like there should have been even more delightfully weird tales here and that perhaps there could have been an even greater variety in narrative styles.  However, this is akin to complaining that a bowl of delicious butter pecan ice cream is lacking because there is no chocolate present and that it isn't a gallon-full of churned ice cream.  For its relatively short size, Get in Trouble is a testimony to just how reliably good Link is as a writer, as the vast majority of these stories deliver on the promises made with their opening lines.  The year is young, but it may be one of the better collections released in a year that already is full of promising writers' debut collections.


Bill said...

Thanks for the delightful review. This sounds terrific; really looking forward to it.


Larry Nolen said...

If you liked her other works, then you almost certainly shall like this one.

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