Kelly Link belongs to that tiny population of authors whose short story collections never leave you wondering when she’ll write a novel. It’s occasionally tempting to fantasize about what she’d do if some genius hired her to show-run a cable TV drama; does any writer have a better, deeper instinct for the subterranean overlap between pop culture and myth? But then we’d have fewer of her stories, and let’s face it: There are far too few of them as it is ... When Link published her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, this sort of fiction, with its playful intersections of the banal and the wondrous, was rare. There’s more of it now, but Link remains the master of a delicate genre; she never descends into the cutesiness or shtick it is too often heir to. She has also never lost her keen understanding of adolescence, but she’s added a more seasoned, worldly perspective to her repertoire.
In Get in Trouble, Link continues to inhabit a wide range of voices with an offbeat sensibility that never curdles into kitsch, thanks to her nearly infallible ear ... Link's gift for depicting the arcane insecurities of teenagers means that many of her stories — the ones that don't have sex in them — have been cross-shelved as juvenile fiction. Although Link's oeuvre tends to make any such genre distinctions look impoverished, the young-adult designation seems appropriate in one respect. Most of us fell in love with books during childhood or early adolescence. Back then, you'd open a book and the words would give like a trap door beneath your feet, and you'd fall right through them into the author's world. For a distracted adult reader inured to the tricks of the trade, this experience is vanishingly rare. A new Link collection is therefore more than just a good excuse for a trip to the bookstore. It's a zero-gravity vacation in a dust jacket.
It has taken Link 10 years to produce her new story collection, Get in Trouble, and it is just as brilliant as her last ... Link’s stories are etchings rather than political cartoons. The nonrealist details in her worlds — the ghosts and celebrities and unicorns — are not supposed to be exaggerations of our world, or criticisms of it. They are simply supposed to be the small stuff of these worlds, in which her characters struggle with love and conflict and, just like Carver’s characters, experience their small, genuine epiphanies.
Get In Trouble shares many elements with its predecessors, like magic, splendid sentences, and stories that are actually perfect, tiny, self-contained universes. But in her current collection, ever-present, pitch-dark undercurrents swirl yet closer to the surface. The darkness imbues the stories with a sense of urgency and importance, helping them to transcend those that came before ... Two stories in particular showcase the awesome breadth of Link’s range ['The New Boyfriend' & 'The Lesson'] ... Like everything included in Get in Trouble, these stories make you laugh while staring into the void. By the end, they’ll be with you sleeping and waking. They’ll be inside you, too.
It's no surprise that so many of Link's characters are deeply entrenched in adolescence, as this is itself a time of transformation, when one kind of magic will no longer do, and needs to be replaced with another. When she ventures away from adolescence, though, I occasionally found myself less connected ... Link perfectly mimics the cadences of teenagers talking to one another, the sniping and jealousy and longing ... As a writer, Link knows there's nothing she's 'supposed' to do; her imaginative freedom is unmitigated by a need to counterbalance the weirdness with explanation. 'Don't explain,' Billie Holiday used to sing, and Kelly Link concurs.
...[a] sensational volume of short fiction ... Amid outlandish locales and sci-fi nightmares, Link explores familial ties that bind and the aching truth that like her characters, we all are trapped in our own stories ... Each of these stories presents the reader with the same setup: Remain in your narrative comfort zone, or venture into Link's uncharted sea of troubles. Come on. Live a little.
Link [once] declared that she loves two kinds of fiction: the kind that 'takes things which are comfortable and familiar and makes them really strange, or else...takes things which are strange and impossible and finally makes them feel comfortable, to a certain extent.' The stories in Get in Trouble do both ... The titles of Kelly Link’s three previous collections — Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners and Pretty Monsters — better suggest her deadpan tone and fantastic subject matter than Get in Trouble. Still, only the marvelous contents of these books can demonstrate Link’s mastery and self-confidence as an author: She believes in her stories, no matter how off the wall they might seem, and she makes her readers believe in them, too.
The stories in Get in Trouble also address very adult concerns. 'The Lesson' follows a married couple to a mysterious island, where they are stranded while their unborn child’s surrogate mother faces the threat of an extremely premature delivery. Based on Link’s own experience with the birth of her now 5-year-old daughter, the story packs an emotional wallop ... When it comes to literary magic, Link is the real deal: clever, surprising, affecting, fluid and funny. She is a rarity, a writer without a track record as a novelist able to command a high-profile collection of her short fiction. It’s tempting to wish that she would write at novel length, but perhaps that crosses the line into ingratitude.
With every tale [Link] conjures a different universe, each more captivating than the last. At first glance these realms don’t seem too far from our own, but soon their wild, mysterious corners are illuminated. In one, rich teens who have implants that render them invisible to cameras hire body doubles to pose for them in public. In another, young girls collect 'boyfriend' dolls that look and act more realistic than human boys. But just as you start to comprehend one world, its story ends. Luckily, this text is ripe for rereading—you’ll long to return the minute you leave.
Kelly Link has a knack for snapping readers to attention with her opening lines. 'When the sex tape happened and things went south with Fawn, the demon lover did what he always did,' she writes in 'I Can See Right Through You,' one of nine stories in this wildly imaginative collection ... Ms. Link never fusses over the surreal twists in her stories, but they contain so much emotional truth that there’s no need to explain a thing.
Superheroes, deep space travelers, a character known only as the Demon Lover: These are some of the figures who populate the nine stories in Get in Trouble, which traces an existence as developed as the one outside our walls. That's a big part of the book's delicious sense of the unexpected, its integration of the ordinary and bizarre ... This is the central tension of Get in Trouble, between the artificial and the actual, between what we think we want and who we really are. The stories here are effective because we believe them — not just their situations but also their hearts ... With Get in Trouble, she has created a series of fully articulated pocket universes, animated by a three-dimensional sense of character, of life.
Do you like magical realism? Stories that start out in normal places, with regular people, and then get impossible and weird? I don’t, either. It makes me feel as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath me, that I’ve been fooled, led somewhere I didn’t intend to go. . . . But then, I’d never read anything by Kelly Link before. . . . After a few stories, I was hooked. I trusted Link to take me places I wanted to go, even if I didn’t know where.
The best of [these stories] are mesmerizing; creating tiny worlds (pocket universes, as the story 'Light' describes) that look deceptively like ours might, if viewed through a warped but alluringly dark prism ... A few of the stories, such as the Ray Bradbury-inspired 'Two Houses' and the very high-concept mummy’s tomb tale 'Valley of the Girls,' feel more like genre fiction, aimed at a precise audience. And Link’s fondness for the short, choppy sentence occasionally becomes off-key. But most of Get in Trouble finds an appealing balance, with Link demonstrating a gift for the telling, atmospheric detail that quietly turns a story around.
...[Link's stories] are never gratingly whimsical as some work in this form can be, nor do the necessary conceits and conventions of the supernatural stories overwhelm their emotional realism ... It is difficult to label Link’s work. She has the gothic discomfort of Shirley Jackson; many of these stories could be filed under 'New Weird'; like Robert Shearman she conjures surreal circumstances then twists them in unexpected, excessive ways. Link’s prose and ideas dazzle; so much so that you don’t see the swift elbow to the emotional solar plexus coming until it’s far, far too late.
Link’s range, compassion, and ability to unsettle — whether writing about the South, deep space, or anywhere in between — are on full display ... What Link evokes at the end of her stories — in the case of stories like the 'The Lesson,' exactly at the end — is the sort of magic every reader hungers for. It’s the desire to come away from a text feeling slightly altered — whether there are tears snow-globing on the lenses of your glasses or you have to put the book down and bite your thumb or there’s a weird feeling of pressure behind your nose or you utter an involuntary 'Oh'
Link is a master of the contemporary short story, and her zeitgeist is oddness. Many of the stories in 2001's Stranger Things Happen began with hints of this oddness and built to a crescendo in which the stranger things were not entirely revealed -- more was yet to come, in the white space. But in Get in Trouble, the stranger things have already arrived, and are among us. If many of our culture's most popular stories are post-apocalyptic these days, then Link's are post-strange. The world's axis has already turned. The wolf-men are at the bar, having a drink. The demon lovers have become film stars. The spaceships are already in flight. The trouble we can get into, in such a world? That's where Link has worked her best magic yet.
Using mischievous humor, Link's nine stories achieve something that's all too rare in a shorts collection—each one feels expansive and whole. Meaty, even. They're sating. Which isn't to say you don't want even more of her bruised protagonists, their demon lovers, and their effed-up predicaments. Link's universes are effortlessly stitched; they're slightly off, while grounded in almost mundane settings, like a house in rural North Carolina or a Florida swamp. Each story is haunted by the one that came before, and ends with a surreal, dreamy twist that will have you thinking about its implications for days.
Get In Trouble’s title comes from a line about a father who alternates between religious zeal and debauched binges on magic moonshine. What’s troublesome about the stories here, and troublesome in a damn good way, is that its readers aren’t too different from that father. We’re both zealously exploring its heavy themes while binging on its fantastical worlds and matter of fact presentation of myth, fairy-tale, fantasy and science fiction ... Link has purposefully not 'realized' in the journalistic manner of Marquez, and through her skill we trust these stories' concerns on their own terms. We're even more satisfied when for all their strangeness the stories strike on what concerns us most in life, and what feels most real. In Get In Trouble, Kelly Link proves that there are all kinds of magic to be made. These nine moving stories are proof of the tricks up her sleeve.