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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get In Trouble: Ghost Stories, Nudists, Superheroes

The blurb game on Kelly Link's new short story collection Get In Trouble is extraordinarily strong — breathless praise from Meg Wolitzer, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, and others, as well as parallels to Raymond Carver in the NY Times, were more than enough motivation for me to give this collection a shot.

Man, I loved it. These are goofy, often darkly funny, but tremendously thought-provoking stories. At their root, however, they're also really fun to read. There are ghosts, runaway teenagers, nudists, sex tapes, hurricanes, burial pyramids, space ships, and superheroes. It's about as packed-with-inventiveness as any collection this side of Karen Russell or George Saunders.

My favorite story in the collection is titled "I Can See Right Through You" — it's about an aging actor who played a vampire in a hit movie in the early '90s (he's referred to as "the demon lover" throughout the story, which just slayed me, for some reason). Twenty-plus years later, he realizes he's still in love with his co-star from that movie (this is in the immediate aftermath of an unfortunate and very public sex tape incident with his current girlfriend), so he travels to Florida to find her. As it happens, she's filming a documentary about a nudist colony that mysteriously disappeared. And to get into the true spirit of the place, they've decided to film the documentary in the nude as well. But our aging actor is distraught to find that his love is unrequited — the actress/documentarian is dating a young stud named Ray. Ray reminds the demon love a lot of himself at that age — which will mean a lot more when you get to the end of the story. It's a fantastically fun read, and a really great conclusion.

Another great story is "Secret Identity" about a 15-year-old girl who meets a man online in a weird role playing video game, and travels to New York to meet him for what we assume is a sexy rendezvous. She arrives at the hotel at which she's supposed to meet him, which happens to be hosting a superhero convention, and waits for him in his room. When he doesn't arrive at the appointed time, she decides to get spectacularly drunk, and then later finds herself involved with a narcissistic, rich man-slut named Conrad Linthor who lives at the hotel. This story veers off into strange places that includes butter sculptures and superhero sidekicks. Again, it's just massively entertaining.

Many of the stories in the collection have real vs imagined, or perception vs reality themes — like the story "The New Boyfriend," in which a young girl finds herself falling in love with her rich friend's Boyfriend Ghost Doll. Imagine Lars and the Real Girl here. Another story is about a group astronauts hurdling through space, and they decide to tell ghost stories. And the first story "The Summer People" is about a mysterious family of perhaps somewhat supernatural beings who live in a huge house on a hill, and a teenage girl who has to take care of them.

There were only one or two of these nine stories that didn't totally click for me, so this is a highly recommended collection. I'd never read Kelly Link before, but as I learned from reading this, her loyal, outspoken fans are certainly justified.

2 comments:

  1. A fantastic collection from a fantastic writer. The title track (as it were) from Magic For Beginners is one of my favorite stories ever.

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  2. Your description of this book makes me think of Miranda July's collection of short stories 'No One Belongs Here More Than You.' Anyways, I'm totally interested in reading this!

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