|cover image from Goodreads.com|
I’m reading Get in Trouble: Stories for the second time. Kelly Link’s new book features superheroes, paranormal lovers, and faeries, as well as pocket universes and ghosts in outer space.
In the hands of lesser authors, these would become the usual seeds of dramatic fantasy. However, Link takes faeries (for example, in 'The Summer People',) puts them into a rental house owned by a moonshine-runner’s daughter, and adds NyQuil, bad parenting, high school parties in Lynchburg. The strange elements – a monkey egg, a mermaid combing garnets out of her hair, the carved words BE BOLD – are introduced as matter-of-factly as a grocery list.
Link’s prosaic style makes the strange elements all the more horrifying. If she wrote with hushed awe or overblown majesty, we’d expect the superhero convention, the snarky teenaged gods who live in the pyramid. But because she writes about familiar topics (Star Wars, false teeth, house paint, handbags) and takes them to weird, Carcosian places, we’re led into a place where zombies live behind the 7-11. Link makes that normal.
Her slipstream world is seductive, familiar, terrifying. One of my favorite stories in Get in Trouble besides 'The Summer People' is ‘Origin Story.’ It features a girl who floats gets drunk, and hooks up at a ruined Wizard of Oz amusement park.
Another is ‘The New Boyfriend,’ where high school girls collect paranormal boyfriends like their young sisters might horde Monster High Dolls. In this tale, Immy is jealous of her friend Ainslie because she just got a Ghost Boyfriend and plots to steal him for herself. It’s an amazing take on the well-worn paranormal trope, encompassing desire and teenaged, selfish bitchiness. One might think the dolls, in the end, know more about love than the humans do.
‘Light,’ the final story, features a woman with two shadows. She works in a storage facility for sleepers, people who never wake up, although dealing with her boozy brother is more of a pain in the butt.
One is ‘The Faery Handbag’. It starts in the Clothing District and ends beyond the mirror:
Down in the basement at the Garment Factory they sell clothing and beat-up suitcases and teacups by the pound. You can get eight pounds worth of prom dresses–a slinky black dress, a poufy lavender dress, a swirly pink dress, a silvery, starry lame dress so fine you could pass it through a key ring– for eight dollars. I go there every week, hunting for Grandmother Zofia’s faery handbag.
Perhaps her most famous story is 'The Specialist’s Hat'. Deceptively simple, the ending comes as a primal howl inside an old house with 100 windows. Yes, there are attics and ghosts, but the way they slither out from the chimney – and the Specialist’s Hat – is beautiful and terrifying.
“When you’re Dead,” Samantha says, “you don’t have to brush your teeth.”
“When you’re Dead,” Claire says, “you live in a box, and it’s always dark, but you’re not ever afraid.”
Claire and Samantha are identical twins. Their combined age is twenty years, four months, and six days. Claire is better at being Dead than Samantha.
As for those zombies, they appear in ‘The Hortlak,’ a story from Magic for Beginners. Those ones inhabit a 24-hour convenience store. They’re also in ‘Some Zombie Contingency Plans,’ another one you can read online. This one is more realistic than the others, but fear not – there’s enough mystery and horror to keep you awake after light’s out.
Zombies weren’t complicated. It wasn’t like werewolves or ghosts or vampires. Vampires, for example, were the middle/upper-middle management of the supernatural world. Some people thought of vampires as rock stars, but really they were more like Martha Stewart. Vampires were prissy. They had to follow rules. They had to look good. Zombies weren’t like that. You couldn’t exorcise zombies. You didn’t need luxury items like silver bullets or crucifixes or holy water. You just shot zombies in the head, or set fire to them, or hit them over the head really hard.
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