I have long maintained that there are only two kinds of readers: those who are obsessed with Kelly Link’s work, and those who have yet to discover it. If you number among that pathetically bereft latter category, you can console yourself with the thought that the delights that lie in store for you are, quite literally, unimaginable, because there is no possible way any ordinary person can imagine something as rare and strange as a Kelly Link story.
Beloved by her peers and treasured by her readers, Link’s stories serve as portals into worlds both familiar and dazzlingly bizarre, and her latest collection—her first in six years, and her first for adults in nearly a decade—is, if anything, even more assured and wise and fantastically weird than her previous books. Her characters here are, many of them, older and sadder and a little more cynical than in her previous books, but they have lost none of the wicked charm and sleight-of-hand that mark them distinctly as hers.
Link’s bailiwick, here and elsewhere, is a sly, surprising—and often surprisingly moving—subversion of genre clichés: Get In Trouble features hot supernatural boyfriends, sexy vampires, noble(ish) heroes, and capricious fairies, but so altered in environment or habits as to be nearly unrecognizable from the glossy stock creatures that populate pop culture.
Link’s characters are frequently animated by relatable obsessions gone just slightly awry: a washed-up movie-star demon yearns for a long-lost former love whose new boyfriend only he can see; a lonely girl pretending to be a grown woman heads to New York for a rendezvous with a man she met in an online roleplaying game and instead encounters supervillains; a teenager deals with her all-encompassing jealousy of her rich, pretty best friend by stealing her best friend’s store-bought undead Boyfriend doll, who, as it turns out, has an agenda of his own; Florida is really not what it seems. There are pocket universes and escaped Disney mermaids, work conferences for superheroes, pissy unicorns and deserted Oz theme parks where former high-school sweethearts get drunk and go over old history and new superpowers, ghost spaceships and badly-behaved brothers who give family obligation a whole new twist, warehouses full of sleepers who cannot be waked—and the paperwork surrounding their storage.
But Link’s singular magic is that the weirder her stories get, the more they lay bare universal truths about love and loss and regret, and it’s her masterful splicing of the everyday and the surreal that make her stories both windows and mirrors, passageways into worlds so different they can only in the end be exactly like this one. Her characters trick and betray, fall in love, and look back on their mistakes with a pervasive and beautiful melancholy that suffuses many of these stories and leaves a ghostly impression long after the last page is turned.
Get In Trouble’s characters are often cruel (in particular, the sardonic trickster of “The Summer People” and the world-weary unwilling twin of the show-stopping collection standout “Light”) but they are never less—or more—than human, and Link spins their frailties and wants into a magic that transcends meanness and shows us ourselves in all our own confused, transcendent splendor. Just read it. You can thank me later.
Get in Trouble is available February 3rd from Random House.
Sarah McCarry is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About A Girl (summer 2015) and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. Find her on twitter @therejectionist.