Kelly Link’s ‘Get in Trouble’: dark magic in a story collection
Kelly Link’s dark and magical new story collection, “Get in Trouble,” features ghost boyfriends, aspiring superheroes and a toy mermaid that combs garnets from her hair. Link appears Feb. 17 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “Get in Trouble” will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).
Kelly Link’s stories, in her new collection “Get in Trouble” (Random House, 336 pp., $25), float eerily in a midpoint between cool realism and dark science fiction. The book, Link’s first for adult readers in a decade, contains nine stories, most of which were previously published in literary journals. The best of them 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.
“My New Boyfriend” has at its center a lovestruck teenage girl obsessed with her friend’s Boyfriend — note the capital letter, which indicates that the object of her affections is not a human boy, but a lifesized doll received as a birthday gift. Ghost Boyfriends (you can also purchase Vampire Boyfriends — all about “secrets and unhappiness ... you can see it in their black and fathomless eyes” — or Werewolf Boyfriends) can be programmed into Spectral Mode; they float around, fetchingly haunting their owners.
“It’s not romantic, having a Boyfriend pop in and out of existence all the time,” notes Ainslie, the GB’s disenchanted owner. Her friend Immy, though, yearns for him; never quite certain (as with any love-dazzled teen) whether he, or her feelings for him, might be real. “Everyone who’s alive has a ghost in them, don’t they?” she wonders. “So why can’t there be a real ghost in a fake boy?”
“Secret Identity,” one of the strongest stories in the collection, also has at its center a teenage girl: Billie, who’s met a grown man in a fantasy role-playing online game (she’s pretending to be her own adult sister) and has ventured out to a hotel to meet him in person. The hotel, though, is rather deliciously full of dentists and superheroes due to two conventions — the mundane and the fantastical, colliding. Billie can tell that an eight-foot frizzy-haired woman in the business center is a superhero “and not just a tall dentist because a little electric sizzle runs along her outline every once in a while as if maybe she’s being projected into her too-small seat from some other dimension.”
Slipping in and out of first person, Billie discovers that she doesn’t need rescue, and that while she may not be sure yet of her own superheroism, she doesn’t want to be a sidekick. It’s a coming-of-age tale, written as an email and told with wistful wit; by its end, though little time has passed, the narrator has achieved her own superhuman feat. She has, just a bit, grown up.
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: a person with an extra shadow; a magical toy collection that contains a mermaid “who combed garnets out of her own hair”; a former “Wizard of Oz” theme park, where “[m]oth-eaten blue ferns grew over the peeling yellow bricks.” Ghosts and superheroes flit through these stories, occasionally alighting; haunting us, after they’ve moved on.
Moira Macdonald is the movie critic for The Seattle Times.