Something ominous lurks in Kelly Link’s latest collection of short stories, Get in Trouble. Sure, the book begins with the ordinary — a small town, a theme park, a crowded bar — but it quickly veers into the bizarre — demon lovers, superheroes, and double shadows — making the familiar unfamiliar and often unsettling. In Link’s world, the line between fantasy and reality is always fluid.
“The Summer People” finds Fran, a working-class teenager from a small Appalachian town, forced to care for eerie, fairy-like creatures who mysteriously live in a nearby mountain house: “Overhead were the fantastic shapes of the dirigibles, and the dragons that were hung on string and swam perpetually through the air above your head.” In “The Lesson,” a couple’s visit to the portentous, possibly supernatural “Bad Claw Island” turns into an all too plausible horror story when they learn that their surrogate has gone into labor at just twenty-four weeks (this tale is drawn from Link’s own experience). Just as a bad dream can seem real, so too can life seem nightmarish and surreal.
Link ’91CC is well known for her young-adult collection Pretty Monsters, and she ventures into adolescence again in “Secret Identity” and “The New Boyfriend.” Both stories explore relatable feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and the longing for acceptance — all while their characters cope with evil villains and ghost boyfriend dolls. With elements of magical realism, science fiction, and romance, all of these tales — like adolescence — hover on the border between half-known worlds.