I gravitated toward Kelly Link’s new short fiction collection based on a compelling summary, thinking Link was a new name to me. But I dug around some, and was reminded of an older story of hers about a boy, the mother he lost, and the cat who tries to lead him to a new life. That was “Catskin” and it skirted deftly away from genre definition. Was it magical realism? Playful allegory? Just plain undefinable weirdness? I couldn’t say.
The stories in this new group are all vaguely fantastical, and it’s easy to see why the flap has supporting quotes from Neil Gaiman and Karen Russell. The opening story, “The Summer People,” is a lovely tale about a teen girl who has a responsibility to a supernatural house out in the country. It’s fascinating and unsettling, grounded yet mysterious.
Some of the stories that follow take a steeper trip into the dark, getting frank about ill-advised relationships. There are the ones about real superheroes (“Secret Identity” and “Origin Story”) as well as ghosts (“I Can See Right Through You” and “The New Boyfriend”), and the unreal elements are subtle enough to serve the stories instead of knocking them off course. I can only think of one, “The Lesson,” that could be read as straight up realistic, about a gay couple preparing for the birth of their child through a surrogate mother. It’s still a vivid tale.
The book’s title is a good guide to these stories, several of which feature women (often young) coming to terms with who or what they want to be. A few specific mentions of the phrase include:
But there was something about him, you just knew he was going to get you into trouble. The good kind of trouble.
People with two shadows were supposed to get in trouble. Supposed to be trouble.
Each story has to quickly orient you to its own little world, which takes some paying attention. Get in Trouble is a tough one to read with distractions. But the not knowing is part of the propulsion, and Link is clearly in control. Several of these could be expanded upon, which makes me wonder which story might become her first novel. Not that a novel has to be the ultimate goal of every writer, but she seems up to the task if one of her tales can’t stay contained. I’d look forward to that book.
Or, let’s get an illustrator to team up with Link, and she can pen a strange superhero ghost story with the enhancement of visual elements. Now that comic would deserve my dollars.