I'M MORE THAN a little in love with Kelly Link and her worlds of words. In her newest short-story collection, Get in Trouble, she crafts a beguiling and eerie blend of fairy tale, fantasy, Ray Bradbury, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a wonderful mélange of cyborg ghosts, evil twin shadows, Egyptian cotillions, and pixie-distilled moonshine. Guys, she's really great.
Using mischievous humor, Link's nine stories achieve something that's all too rare in a shorts collection—each one feels expansive and whole. Meaty, even. They're sating. Which isn't to say you don't want even more of her bruised protagonists, their demon lovers, and their effed-up predicaments. Link's universes are effortlessly stitched; they're slightly off, while grounded in almost mundane settings, like a house in rural North Carolina or a Florida swamp. Each story is haunted by the one that came before, and ends with a surreal, dreamy twist that will have you thinking about its implications for days. It's like Link plucks out a thread from her freshly woven creation, and then unravels it until it's a tangle of strangeness.
Halfway through opener "The Summer People"—a spooky bit of business reminiscent of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell—I started to wonder if the story was in fact enchanted. At one point, a girl sees a peculiar house in the distance, "hidden like a bride behind her veil of climbing vines: virgin's bower and Japanese honeysuckle, masses of William Baffin and Cherokee roses overgrowing the porch and running up over the sagging roof." Had "The Summer People" magically taken on the properties of its container—my Anne of Green Gables tote bag? Link seems just that crafty. She's adept at throwing in unexpected, teasing details that let readers play alternate-universe Nancy Drew. Yet Link's true skill isn't in her surprising sleights of hand—it's in her deft ability to capture the loneliness of young heartbreak, the disappearance of love, and the sexy danger of getting exactly what you want, when you want it.
The arch heroines (plus a few arch heroes) of Get in Trouble are a weird and delightful lot, covetous and funny, impish and mesmerizing—like Immy in "The New Boyfriend," whose jealousy of her perfect best friend becomes overwhelming. "If you can't be honest with your best friend's Vampire Boyfriend, who can you be honest with?" she thinks as they dance at a party. "He clasps her even tighter in his arms until she has to ask him to ease up just a little. It's a fine line between being cuddled and being squeezed like a juice box, and Vampire Boyfriends sometimes cross right over that line." It's also a fine line between friend and enemy.
In Get in Trouble, it's pretty incredible to find such an accessible passageway to fairy world, where interstellar hauntings are as frightening and eldritch as otherworldly magpies who reign over dappled mountains. Kelly Link is a master guide who is only too willing to scare, thrill, and intrigue with a well-turned walk in those woods.