Skip to main content

Get in Trouble: Stories


Get in Trouble: Stories

Over the past decade, some prominent authors have put forth the argument that works of genre fiction should be accorded the same respect as literary fiction. Their thesis appears to be that the main point of literature is to entertain, and that all works that entertain a reader have equal merit. I agree that good genre fiction deserves respect, but I’ve always found this argument self-serving. These authors don’t champion all genre fiction. They champion the types they like and want to write, usually mysteries, thrillers and science fiction. One wonders if they honestly see no difference between Marcel Proust at his best and, say, certain brand names of romance novel. I enjoy kicking back with a Hercule Poirot mystery, but I would never equate books of that kind with works of literature that entertain and have something meaningful to say. Not all chocolate bars are equally tasty.

But skillfully crafted genre fiction can be brilliant fun. One of the best authors to play with the conventions of the short story is Kelly Link. In recent years, she has created some of the most entertaining, genre-bending works of short fiction by an American writer. GET IN TROUBLE, her new collection, demonstrates her ability to spin gripping yarns about haunted houses, vampires, wolfmen, spaceships and Egyptian cartouches, and infuse her tales with a vitality rarely seen in this type of fiction.

"GET IN TROUBLE...demonstrates [Link's] ability to spin gripping yarns about haunted houses, vampires, wolfmen, spaceships and Egyptian cartouches, and infuse her tales with a vitality rarely seen in this type of fiction."

Young women are the protagonists in most of these stories. In “The Summer People,” a teenager named Fran is left alone for three weeks when her father travels to a prayer meeting in Miami. In his absence, she cares for the story’s title characters, a rarely seen family that communicates with her through voices in her head. The template Link uses in this story is one that she repeats, with varying degrees of success, throughout the book: Start with a seemingly mundane scenario and then take the reader in an unanticipated, fantastical direction.

In “I Can See Right Through You,” a character referred to as the demon lover is an actor in his mid-40s who earned fame in vampire films 20 years earlier. He travels to Florida to track down his former co-star, the “monster girl” who dropped out of acting for a while and is now shooting a ghost-hunting reality show called “Who’s There?” “Secret Identity” is about a 15-year-old named Billie who travels from her home in Keokuk, Iowa, to a hotel in New York that is hosting two conventions, one of dentists and the other of superheroes, to track down the 34-year-old man she met while gaming online. And in “Origin Story,” a man and woman who were friends in childhood reunite years later at the ruins of their hometown’s Land of Oz theme park, get drunk and exchange stories. Among the extraordinary talents shared by Bunnatine, the woman, is her ability to float in the air.

Almost all of the stories in this collection are set in a world that is not quite real. An exception is “The Lesson,” in which a gay couple hires a surrogate to give birth to their baby. This is one of the least successful stories in the book. The characters are too sketchy, as are those in “Two Houses,” set in 2089, with astronauts swapping ghost stories while aboard their spaceship.

But most of the stories show Link’s gift for hooking the reader with a riveting beginning and building tension throughout. The best story is “The New Boyfriend,” involving a young woman who gets for her birthday a Ghost Boyfriend --- a life-size animated doll that comes to life when you press behind his ear --- and the jealous classmate who has just broken up with her real-life boyfriend. This weird story is a poignant depiction of teenage confusion and the desire for love.

As with any work of fiction, the extent to which you admire GET IN TROUBLE will depend on either your taste for the subject matter or the author’s ability to make you appreciate material you wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. I’m not fond of tales about vampires and ghosts, so, after a while, I found myself wishing that these stories were less clever and more meaningful. (“The New Boyfriend” is an exception.) But readers who don’t need convincing to savor ghost stories and tales of dances in micro gravity will love this collection. And with good reason: For the most part, these are beautifully written stories by one of today’s most inventive writers.

Reviewed by Michael Magras on February 6, 2015

Get in Trouble: Stories
by Kelly Link

  • Publication Date: February 9, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812986490
  • ISBN-13: 9780812986495