I think it’s pretty well established that I like my short stories weird. But these stories by Kelly Link pushed the weird envelope for me. They’re not necessarily bad stories, but I felt like I wasn’t getting some of them. Are the stories the problem, or am I? I don’t know. I do know I don’t want to be the sort of reader who dismisses difficult writing as bad, but neither do I want to be the sort of reader who assumes that difficult writing is deep or profound.
Get in Trouble is made up of nine stories. A couple of them I did genuinely enjoy. “The Summer People,” which tells of a girl in Appalachia who has inherited the task of taking care of some otherworldly visitors, is satisfyingly creepy. There’s plenty of ambiguity, particularly regarding the girl’s motivation in telling a school friend about them, but it’s the kind of ambiguity that leaves me happily imagining what might be happening, not scratching my head at what I missed. Plus, I loved the little clockwork toys the faery-like visitors make.
Another pleasantly creepy story was “Two Houses,” although the creepiness is really in the story within a story. In this story, a group of space travelers are alone in space when their companion ship disappears. As they journey, one of them tells a story about an art installation involving two identical houses. This story merges into their story, raising the question of what it means for a spirit to haunt a place. The space stuff is interesting, especially toward the end, but the art installation was, to me, the real story, and I wanted more of that.
“Two Boyfriends” is set in the future, when robot Boyfriends have become popular gifts for teenage girls. Ainsley has a full set—a Vampire Boyfriend, Werewolf Boyfriend, and a Ghost Boyfriend, the last of which was just pulled off the market because of some unsatisfactory user experiences. Ainsley’s friend Immy wants a Boyfriend very much, but her parents won’t get her one. The story delves into the dynamics of friendships—I can’t say the insights are incredibly deep, but I appreciated how Link gets at teenage desire.
Two of the stories—“Secret Identity” and “Origin Story”—are set in a world where superheroes are real. The first story, in which a girl is alone at a hotel during a superhero and a dentist’s convention, is better than the second. Stuff happens in that first story. If anything, it’s maybe a little too packed with incident, but I mostly liked it. The second is a mostly pointless conversation.
More pointless are the stories “The Lesson” and “Light.” The first takes place at a wedding. A gay couple at the wedding are worried about their baby, soon to be born to a surrogate mom. It’s a fine premise for a story, and there are some compelling images (guests wearing wedding dresses!), but it felt a little like a random collection of images. “Light” was even more random. There are pocket universes, people with two shadows, people in what I assume is cyrogenic sleep, and iguanas. It was busy with stuff, all sort of randomly arranged.
“I Can See Right Through You” also features what looks like a random arrangement of incidents in the life of two actors who were romantically involved but are no longer. The story itself is pretty ordinary, much like “The Lesson,” except that the man is referred to as the demon lover throughout and the woman remembers encountering a demon through a ouija board. This opened up some interesting possibilities, but the actual story was dull.
And then there’s “Valley of the Girls.” My experience with this story makes me wonder if there’s more to the other stories that I just didn’t get. This story is set in the future among a group of rich young people who are kept out of sight of the world and have pyramids built to hold their treasures and offer a place to party. When I got to the end and realized what had happened to the main character, I went back and read the whole thing again and was impressed at how Link shared everything readers needed to know from the beginning without explicitly giving away what was happening.
Would the other, more opaque stories benefit from a second reading? Maybe. But most of them weren’t compelling enough as I was reading them for me to want to try again. As short stories go, they’re on the long side, often 40 pages or more. A lot of the time, I could work out the basic plot. I just couldn’t figure out what a lot of the extraneous details had to do with anything. They felt both simplified and overly complex all at once.
I know Kelly Link has a strong following and is considered a particularly good short story writer. Is this typical of her work? Am I just meant to sit in the weirdness? What am I missing?
I received a review copy of this book for review consideration through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.