Unlike most story collections, Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble does not take its title from a short story therein. But that’s only the first way it’s unlike most collections.
Link (Magic for Beginners, 2005) is the celebrated author of wonder-filled short stories for adult and YA audiences. Her books have been categorized as fantasy, horror, mystery, magic realism, slipstream and science fiction. They’ve been creatively shelved at bookstores.
“Occasionally I get email from people that say that they’ve seen Magic for Beginners in the how-to section, or in the magic section, and I think: This is great. Go out there and end up in weird places, book,” Link says.
Oh, the places Get in Trouble could go! To the sci-fi section, for “Valley of the Girls,” in which privileged kids get pyramids and professional doppelgängers. To fantasy, for “The Summer People,” the spooky tale of lodgers who exact extreme fealty from their caregivers—or horror, for that matter. Magic realism, for “Light”:
“...[A] woman had given birth to half a dozen rabbits. A local gas station had been robbed by invisible men. Some cult had thrown all the infidels out of a popular pocket universe. Nothing new, in other words. The sky was always falling. U.S. 1 was bumper to bumper all the way to Plantation Key,” writes Link (who’s originally from Miami).
Link’s first adult collection in a decade, Get in Trouble reflects the varied career built in the interim. In 1995, she attended acclaimed sci-fi bootcamp Clarion East Writing Workshop; she’s since returned to teach there. Along with husband Gavin J. Grant, she founded Small Beer Press in Northhampton, Massachusetts and coedited The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology five times. Her work has been published in The Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and has won Locus Awards, Nebula Awards, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
“I ended up having a career which is much more exciting than I thought it would be,” Link says. “When I started out writing, I really just wanted to write work which could be published in sci-fi magazines, I thought of myself as a sci-fi writer, despite the fact that I really don’t write science fiction. Now if somebody asks I say, ‘I write weird stories. I write short stories’—that’s usually enough to put people off,” she jokes.
It’s funny, because Link excels at drawing readers in. In “I Can See Right Through You,” post sex-tape scandal, an aging Hollywood vampire finds trouble in the form of a former onscreen/offscreen paramour, who’s shooting a paranormal reality show on location in Lake Apopka, Florida. “(1974) Twenty-two people disappear from a nudist colony in Lake Apopka. People disappear all the time. Let’s be honest: the only thing interesting here is that these people were naked. And that no one ever saw them again. Funny, right?” Link writes.
Right—in a terrifying sort of way. Link acknowledges playing horror off humor as a reliable way to entice and disarm. To illustrate, a story:
“I have a friend who’s a massage therapist. She says that when a bird of prey picks up a rabbit, or snatches something, it will shake it to make all the muscles go loose. What happens when all your muscles go loose is that you’re paralyzed, you can’t escape—and she told me that as she’s giving me a massage, sort of shaking out my arms until I really can’t move. I think mixing humor with horror is one technique that exists for disarming a reader. If you make somebody laugh, you’ve disarmed them. If they find something funny, then the scary thing that happens next will be that much more terrifying,” says Link.
“The New Boyfriend” begins with seemingly low stakes: “Ainslie doesn’t rip open presents. She’s always been careful with her things, even the things that don’t matter. Immy is a ripper, but this is not Immy’s present, not Immy’s birthday. Sometimes Immy thinks that this may not be Immy’s life. Better luck next time around, Immy, she tells herself,” she writes.
All Immy wants is a Boyfriend, a life-sized doll programmed to profess undying ardor, take you dancing and return to its coffin when not needed. Now Ainslie has three: Vampire Boyfriend, Werewolf Boyfriend and the super-rare Ghost Boyfriend with Spectral Mode—the kind that was discontinued and recalled for no-one-seems-to-know why.
“Everyone who is alive has a ghost inside them, don’t they? So why can’t there be a real ghost in a fake boy? What can’t a real ghost in a fake boy fall in love with Immy? Justin did. Why can’t Immy get what she wants, just for once?” she writes.
She’s been heading for trouble since that opening sentence.
“The ending is present all the way through a story,” Link says. “The ending is present in the first sentence, present in the middle, and it really is just a matter of time before we hit it. The thing about short stories…is that you’re able to hold a whole story in your mind as you read. If the story works, I don’t think it’s so much about resolution as it is about a kind of wholeness, or even a kind of satisfying gap the story is organized around.”
Link doesn’t do any tidy resolution in Get in Trouble—just stories that grab you, shake you and don’t let go till the last word. When they do release you back into the world, it’s with a fresh sense of unease.
“I think that everybody likes ghost stories,” says Link. “You say to somebody, ‘Do you want to hear a ghost story?’ and it’s very rare they’re going to say no, unless it’s late at night and they want to go to bed. A ghost story is a story about something that somebody can’t explain. If I say ‘Something strange happened to me today...’—that’s something that suggests a story you want to hear. I’m interested, because we want to know stories about strange things, strange stories about strange things that happen to real people. So if you can make the characters feel real, if you can make the strange things strange enough ...”
Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.