Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

There's a cliche that you should read short-story collections slowly -- picking it up, reading one story, and putting it back down until it's time for the next one, so each story has an individual impact. You see it a lot in laudatory introductions and reviews, when writers are digging deep in their sack of tricks to pull out the biggest compliment they can think of for their mentors or best friends or idols. And maybe some people really do read like that on purpose: I don't know how everyone reads, but I know enough to know that there's a lot of people who do things in ways I find really weird.

So when I say that I read Kelly Link's third major short-story collection Get in Trouble one story a time, one or occasionally two a day and missing a lot of days, over what turned out to be three weeks, please understand that I'm not saying that standard compliment I just described. I'm perfectly capable of reading one short story and then picking up another one right away -- at least most of the time, when there's enough time to get through the next one.

And I have to admit that part of my slowness is just the way my life is now: I read mostly during my commute, and sometimes that's too hectic to get a book out (or even get a seat). And a book of longer stories, like this one, means that one leg of a commute is probably only one story long anyway.

But, still. After each of the first few stories in this book -- three? four? I can't remember exactly, now -- I had to stop, put the book down for at least a moment, and take it all in. It had been a while since I last read Link: I knew, intellectually, how good she was, but I didn't feel it, viscerally, until those stories started hitting me. She's a writer whose stories end precisely: on exactly the right few words, at exactly the right moment. And they pack a wallop.

A writer like that doesn't get a lot of work out, of course. Get in Trouble is only the third Link collection, after Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners. It collects roughly a decade's worth of work -- nine stories from 2006 through 2014, including one new one for this volume. It would be nice to have more Kelly Link stories, definitely. But only if they could be as good as these, and that's a very high bar. Maybe the next decade will be more productive for her, maybe not. In life, you get what you get.

So here are nine great stories, some of which you may have read before if you're really plugged in. (I hadn't; this last decade has seen me getting very un-plugged.) They're mostly fantasy, in that they have strange and mysterious elements in them that don't fit what we think of as normal reality. At least one is also science fiction. They mostly are about women, which still is not as common in SFF as it should be, and worth celebrating. They're also largely about young people -- maybe because we think stories happen to young people.

I can't tell you more than that about them. You have to read them. You should read them. Even if you don't read much short fiction, or fantasy, or fiction at all. I think Kelly Link will be read a hundred years from now, and taught. I think there will be long dissertations on her stories. And, more importantly, I think those students in 2117 "forced" to read the Penguin Classics edition of Link's stories will realize that they're still wonderful, because they will be.

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