February 10, 2015
*Full disclosure: I received a finished copy of this book from Random House Canada for review consideration.
Mirrors are funny things. The longer you stare into them, the more you see: that curl doesn’t sit quite right on your cheek, your eyeshadow isn’t exactly even on your eyelids, that tiny movement out of the corner of your eye might just be the hot air from your vents ruffling your childhood doll’s hair, or it might be that she’s blinked at you, approving your outfit of choice for the day. Unsettled yet? Curious yet? That’s the kind of reading experience Kelly Link provides in her newest short story collection Get in Trouble, and you’ll thank her for it by the time you turn the last page.
Link’s stories, all previously published in other collections or literary magazines, share a common theme of the extraordinary in the ordinary, though maybe not in the way readers might expect. Those strange people and moments are laid out without alarm, without fanfare—they just are, and the stories unravel around them. “The Summer People” is probably the closest to uttering the word “magic” in referring to the mysterious summer residents, and yet it never does, leaving the reader to wonder.
And wonder you will, as Link’s protagonists navigate a mix of the peculiar and puzzling in their lives. Her settings range from secluded parts of the Ozarks in “Summer People,” to glittering party halls and lonely pyramids in “Valley of the Girls,” to a quiet house in “Origin Story.” Though none of them are as complicated as the characters that populate those places, with the things they can’t say or dare to think about themselves.
Each story is a mirror, held unmercilessly close to each protagonist. The demon lover in “I Can See Right Through You” doesn’t know what to name the connection between him and former love, Meggie, but can’t escape it. “Origin Story” might be dialogue-driven, but all of it is a reflection of Bunnatine, the prickly main character, and the secret she hides. And in “The New Boyfriend,” Immy’s resentment and desperation manifests in concrete and creepy ways she could never have predicted.
Link doesn’t challenge her readers so much as she provides them with new lenses, not quite cracked, but not whole either. They’re just a tiny bit warped, like the people they reflect, like all of us are at some point in our lives. Kelly Link works those new perspectives with a masterful hand, daring you to “get in trouble.” Once you do, it’s hard to ignore how relatable all of these characters are. It’s a dare worth experiencing for yourself.