Kelly Link
Kelly Link

A Review of Kelly Link’s “Get in Trouble”

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“Get in Trouble” Book Cover
“Get in Trouble” Book Cover

Kelly Link is not a prolific writer. She has authored only three short story collections — four, if you count one for young readers — in the past 20 years or so. However, when she does drop a collection — as she did in 2015 with Get in Trouble (sitting on my Kindle since that time), and we’re still waiting on the next collection — you’ll know it’ll be a doozy. Get in Trouble was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and a host of other awards, and, since this collection’s publication, she has become the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially known as the Genius Grant. Really, if you need any proof that Link is talented, all you need to do is crack open a random short story as just about any of them is bound to be a good one.

Get in Trouble is a unique short story collection in that there isn’t any true dud in the bunch. However, different readers will have different favourites because they run the gamut from slipstream to straight-up literary fiction. There’s not much in the way of connective tissue, except that, in many of the stories, the main protagonists do wind up getting into some sort of a jam. A lot of the stories are also creative for being the sake of being creative, though that doesn’t usually detract too much from their readability. In any event, here I am, sitting writing this review after closing my Kindle for the final time on this collection, and I’m practically the writerly form of being speechless. I have a block and I don’t know how to write this review. It isn’t that the stories aren’t memorable — many of them are — but trying to make sense of the incredible uniqueness of the Link universe is a challenge.

For instance, the first story in the collection (and, by necessity, I need to spoil the stories I am going to talk about, so if you haven’t read the book, come back to this review after you have), “The Summer People,” is about a young teenaged girl showing another teenaged girl the ropes of taking care of a residence that she and her father look after. However, this isn’t an ordinary home. The residents of the place cannot be seen and yet they make out-of-this-world knickknacks never quite seen before to give away to friendly people, and they do things like dedicating rooms of a house they reside in to staging complex battles with blimps that shoot pellets (and sting when they hit you). The story ends with the lead character selling one of the knickknacks for a travel ticket and goes out to see the world, wondering when she will be able to go back home. It isn’t exactly clear what has happened to the young girl’s schoolmate, or why she’s been forced to leave her home. Thus, the reader is left to make suppositions, and draw their conclusions as to what has happened and what they have read.

The remainder of the collection has its share of clever stories. One of my favourites is about a young girl who plans to meet up with an older man she has met in an online community at a superhero convention. The fascinating part is that, in this story, superheroes are real, but the spotlight or focus is not on them. They exist in the background, but they do nothing in the story — they don’t swoop in and save this young child, for instance. It’s just treated as though there’s a realness to this element of the story, but it’s treated in a very matter of fact way. It’s as though, “Phhbt, superheroes exist, but they don’t play a large role in the universe of the story.” That’s a challenging and brave thing to do as a writer — set out to confound expectations — and, in its little ways, unique.

The one story that sticks out for me, though, is “The Lesson.” It’s the lone piece in Get in Trouble that doesn’t have a science-fiction or horror genre trappings. In fact, it is a touching story about two married gay men who are about to have a child through a surrogate mother, but there are complications during the pregnancy. Meanwhile, the bulk of the story takes place on an island off the coast of the southern USA during a wedding to a friend of the couple. Link, in her way, weaves a captivating tale that looks at the lives of the main characters as funneled through the fakery and treachery of the secondary characters, the couple getting married. While its inclusion in Get in Trouble may at first seem as though it sticks out like a sore thumb, it, if you think about it, really doesn’t. The magical realism of the story centers on a baby’s survival and possible birth, as though there could be nothing more magical than the act of giving birth — especially to a troubled fetus.

All in all, Get in Trouble is a ground-breaking collection of short fiction, and does for magic realist writing for American women what The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye did for men writing in the slipstream mode — absolutely breaks down narrative barriers, and make it seem as though its author is getting away with the act of murder. This is a fabulous collection of stories, even though many of them may make you feel uneasy or unsure what exactly to say about them. True, some of the pieces haven’t dated well with references to listservs and MMORPGs, but don’t let that deter you. If you’re even a fringe lover of speculative fiction, you need to get your hands on this book if you haven’t already. Get in Trouble is an essential read by an important author, and once you’re done with it, you may just wish that Kelly Link would hurry up and finish her next book. It’s pretty damn indispensable, and the world, ultimately, needs more of these kinds of stories.

Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble was originally published by Random House in 2015.

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Get in touch: zacharyhoule@rogers.com

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.