Get in Troubleby Kelly Link
FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE | NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY TIME AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY BookPage • BuzzFeed • Chicago Tribune • Kirkus Reviews • NPR • San Francisco Chronicle • Slate • Toronto Star • The Washington Post
She has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction” and by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure.” Now Kelly Link’s eagerly awaited new collection—her first for adult readers in a decade—proves indelibly that this bewitchingly original writer is among the finest we have.
Link has won an ardent following for her ability, with each new short story, to take readers deeply into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe. The nine exquisite examples in this collection show her in full command of her formidable powers. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.
Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty—and the hidden strengths—of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.
Praise for Get in Trouble
“Ridiculously brilliant . . . These stories make you laugh while staring into the void.”—The Boston Globe
“When it comes to literary magic, Link is the real deal: clever, surprising, affecting, fluid and funny.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“With every tale [Link] conjures a different universe, each more captivating than the last. . . . You’ll long to return the minute you leave. [Grade:] A.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Marvelous . . . As a writer Kelly Link is possessed of many magical powers, but to me what’s most notable about [Get in Trouble] is its astonishing freedom.”—Meg Wolitzer, NPR
“Sensational . . . Remain in your narrative comfort zone, or venture into Link’s uncharted sea of troubles. Come on. Live a little.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“This is art that re-enchants the world. Who needs tediously believable situations, O. Henry endings or even truthfulness to life? Give us magic; give us wonder.”—The Washington Post
“The stories here are effective because we believe them—not just their situations but also their hearts.”—Los Angeles Times
“A zero-gravity vacation in a dust jacket.”—Chicago Tribune
From the Hardcover edition.
These nine stories may begin in familiar territory—a birthday party, a theme park, a bar, a spaceship—but they quickly draw readers into an imaginative, disturbingly ominous world of realistic fantasy and unreal reality. Like Kafka hosting Saturday Night Live, Link mixes humor with existential dread. The first story, entitled "The Summer People," in homage to Shirley Jackson, follows an Appalachian schoolgirl, abandoned by her moonshiner father, as she looks after a summer house occupied by mysterious beings. "I Can See Right Through You" features friends who, in their youth, were movie stars; now in middle age, she is the hostess and he is the guest star of a television show about hunting ghosts at a Florida nudist colony. "Origin Story" takes place in a deserted Land of Oz theme park; "Secret Identity" is set at a hotel where dentists and superheroes attend simultaneous conferences. Only in a Link story would you encounter Mann Man, a superhero with the powers of Thomas Mann, or visit a world with pools overrun by Disney mermaids. Details—a bruise-green sky, a Beretta dotted with Hello Kitty stickers—bring the unimaginable to unnerving life. Each carefully crafted tale forms its own pocket universe, at once ordinary (a teenage girl adores and resents her BFF) and bizarre (...therefore she tries to steal the BFF's robot vampire boyfriend doll). Link's characters, driven by yearning and obsession, not only get in trouble but seek trouble out—to spectacular effect. (Feb.)
The cover of Link's new short story collection—the advance copy, anyway—is blanketed with raves from major authors. To be sure, her stories are wonderful creations; the author has a way of concocting a unique world in each piece and drawing in the reader. "The Summer People," for instance, features an Appalachian girl who minds the house of some unseen people, who seem to be both hoarders and fairies. In the futuristic "The New Boyfriend," teenage girls have superficial and dysfunctional relationships with life-sized boyfriend dolls. In "Light," a plucky, hard-drinking woman with two shadows employed at a company that ships and houses the inert victims of a mysterious sleeping epidemic gears up for a hurricane. VERDICT Link's fiction could be described as a combination of George Saunders's eerie near-reality mixed with Amy Hempel's badda-boom timing, plus a dose of Karen Russell's otherworldly tropical sensibility. In short, the tales are imaginatively bizarre yet can be seen as allegorical representations of our own crazy modern world. Most of the protagonists here are female and resourceful; it's a pleasure to immerse oneself in fantasy worlds where women aren't victims or pale stereotypes. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/14.]—Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
In stories as haunting as anything the Grimm brothers could have come up with, Link (Magic for Beginners, 2005, etc.) gooses the mundane with meaning and enchantment borrowed from myth, urban legend and genre fiction. Here are superheroes who, like minor characters from reality shows, attend conferences at the same hotels as dentists and hold auditions for sidekicks. Here, a Ouija board can tell you as much about your future as your guidance counselor. In "Two Houses," six astronauts wake from suspended animation to while away the time telling ghost stories, although they may be ghosts themselves. In "I Can See Right Through You," an actor past his prime, famous for his role as a vampire, yearns for the leading lady who has replaced him with a parade of eternally younger versions of what he once was—but who is the real demon lover? In "The New Boyfriend," a teenager discontent with her living boyfriend toys with stealing her best friend's birthday present, a limited edition Ghost Boyfriend, capable of Spectral Mode. In "Light," Lindsey has two shadows, one of which long ago grew to become her almost-real twin brother. She contemplates a vacation on a "pocket universe," a place "where the food and the air and the landscape seemed like something out of a book you'd read as a child; a brochure; a dream." Lindsey could be describing Link's own stories, creepy little wonders that open out into worlds far vaster than their shells. In a Link story, someone is always trying to escape and someone is always vanishing without a trace. Lovers are forever being stolen away like changelings, and when someone tells you he'll never leave you, you should be very afraid. Exquisite, cruelly wise and the opposite of reassuring, these stories linger like dreams and will leave readers looking over their shoulders for their own ghosts.
“Ridiculously brilliant . . . and entertaining as heck . . . These stories make you laugh while staring into the void. By the end, they’ll be with you sleeping and waking.”—The Boston Globe
“Marvelous . . . As a writer Kelly Link is possessed of many magical powers, but to me what’s most notable about her new collection, Get in Trouble, is its astonishing freedom. . . . Link knows there’s nothing she’s ‘supposed’ to do; her imaginative freedom is unmitigated by a need to counterbalance the weirdness with explanation.”—Meg Wolitzer, NPR
“Smashing . . . sensational . . . Each of these stories presents the reader with the same setup: Remain in your narrative comfort zone, or venture into Link’s uncharted sea of troubles. Come on. Live a little.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“This is art that re-enchants the world. Who needs tediously believable situations, O. Henry endings or even truthfulness to life? Give us magic; give us wonder. What matter most in pure storytelling are style and visionary power. If your voice is hypnotic enough, you can make readers follow you anywhere.”—The Washington Post
“When it comes to literary magic, Link is the real deal: clever, surprising, affecting, fluid and funny.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliantly strange . . . With every tale [Link] conjures a different universe, each more captivating than the last. At first glance these realms don’t seem too far from our own, but soon their wild, mysterious corners are illuminated. . . . You’ll long to return the minute you leave. [Grade:] A”—Entertainment Weekly
“Get in Trouble is one of the strongest collections I’ve read recently; each story is finely calibrated, with Link’s surreal but utterly believable logic, suspense, and heart.”—The Paris Review
“Wildly imaginative . . . Link never fusses over the surreal twists in her stories, but they contain so much emotional truth that there’s no need to explain a thing.”—The New York Times
“[Get in Trouble] resonates with depth and maturity, the sense of a writer using genre for her purposes rather than the other way around. . . . The stories here are effective because we believe them—not just their situations but also their hearts. . . . [Kelly Link] has created a series of fully articulated pocket universes, animated by a three-dimensional sense of character, of life.”—Los Angeles Times
“Since her 2001 debut, Stranger Things Happen, no one has surpassed Link at crafting stories like miniature worlds, each one palatial on the inside, honeycombed with alternate realities and alarmingly seductive. . . . A new Link collection is therefore more than just a good excuse for a trip to the bookstore. It’s a zero-gravity vacation in a dust jacket.”—Chicago Tribune
“Magical . . . The stories in Get in Trouble are something like the wonderful stories of Ray Bradbury, whose science fiction transcended the genre. Link’s tales are reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, too, with something dark, feminine, and punk-rock blended in.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Mesmerizing.”—The Seattle Times
“Beautiful, terrible and strange . . . When Link published her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, this sort of fiction, with its playful intersections of the banal and the wondrous, was rare. There’s more of it now, but Link remains the master of a delicate genre.”—Salon
“[Get in Trouble] is a haunted house built with blunt sentences and teeming with dark shadows, sudden shocks, and secret rooms. . . . But fear not: Link is always in control, an emotional realist with a steady hand and a generous heart.”—New York
“Link’s prose and ideas dazzle; so much so that you don’t see the swift elbow to the emotional solar plexus coming until it’s far, far too late.”—The Guardian
“Link has won Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Tiptree Awards for her fiction, but no single taxonomic label, such as fantasy, adequately covers what she does. . . . She shows off a wit that would earn her a nod from Dorothy Parker.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“[Get in Trouble] brims with imagination and astonishment—not to mention the indefinable weirdness of being a human being. Every story in Get in Trouble is pure delight, a Big Gulp of beauty and horror and joy. If you aren’t already in love with Kelly Link’s writing, you soon will be. . . . Link is a visionary and a master storyteller, and Get in Trouble is her best book yet.”—BuzzFeed
“Any fan of Karen Russell, Ursula K. Le Guin, and any other smartly written, fantastic stories should not miss out on Kelly Link.”—The Huffington Post
“[Link] 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.”—The Portland Mercury
“Link remains one of the most potent storytellers we have, and Get in Trouble is some of her most playful and intense work yet. It’s a great reminder of not just Link’s unique voice, but also the fact that stories can be more than just nuggets of invention—they can be precious and life-enhancing.”—io9
“Irresistible . . . The best of her stories linger after they end, casting shadows and opening doors to strange new worlds.”—The Columbus Dispatch
“The nine stories in [Get in Trouble] sizzle with surprises. . . . Link is one of a kind.”—BBC
“These stories take a wrecking ball to labels like ‘literary realism,’ ‘science fiction,’ ‘fairytales,’ and ‘magical realism,’ and then build something beautiful, complex, and intricately imaginative from the rubble.”—Bustle
“Each story in Get in Trouble is like a dark ride at an amusement park: you enter with no idea what is going to happen and little opportunity to get your bearings before things start to speed up. You emerge on the other side dizzied, tousled, exhilarated and a little changed.”—Toronto Star
“[Kelly Link] makes realism and fantasy prop each other up and dance, and soon they’re whirling together so quickly that you can't tell the difference between the two.”—The Stranger
“In Link’s masterful hands, even the bizarre seems plausible.”—Marie Claire
“You can never really read a Link story for the second time, much like you can’t step in the same river twice. It’s not just that the stories are fluid, with unexpected eddies and odd new things always floating downstream, but that part of the pleasure of reading a Link story lies in deciding how to read this particular Link story.”—Locus
“Beneath the attention-getting levity of Link’s conceits—ghosts, superheroes, ‘evil twins’—lies a patient, Munrovian attunement to the complexities of human nature.”—The Millions
“Brilliant . . . These short stories are sharp, dangerous and haunting, and say just as much about our modern desire for fantasies as they do about the desires that make us human.”—Refinery29
“Link is seven kinds of brilliant, and then just when you think you have your brain wrapped around all of them, another pops up.”—KQED
“There is no more successful writer at walking the edge of speculation and genre. . . . No one is more gifted at dipping into a darker kind of wonder, an emotion for most readers that sadly belongs to the realm of childhood, than Link is. She bewilders the reader with wonder.”—A. N. Devers, Longreads
“[Link] shows [short fiction’s] ability to compress lifetimes seething with tension and crystallise moments blazing with desire and defiance, into handfuls of taut, finely wrought, pages.”—The Sydney Morning Herald
“The stories in Get in Trouble are as compulsively readable as a trendy YA novel, but have the cultural richness of Angela Carter, the emotional complexity of Alice Munro, and a precise use of language all Link’s own.”—National Post
From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt
Get In Trouble
By Kelly Link
Random House LLCCopyright © 2015 Kelly Link
All rights reserved.
"The Summer People"
Fran's daddy woke her up wielding a mister. "Fran," he said, spritzing her like a wilted houseplant. "Fran, honey. Wakey wakey."
Fran had the flu, except it was more like the flu had Fran. In consequence of this, she'd laid out of school for three days in a row. The previous night, she'd taken four NyQuil caplets and gone to sleep on the couch while a man on the TV threw knives. Her head was stuffed with boiled wool and snot. Her face was wet with watered-down plant food. "Hold up," she croaked. "I'm awake!" She began to cough, so hard she had to hold her sides. She sat up.
Her daddy was a dark shape in a room full of dark shapes. The bulk of him augured trouble. The sun wasn't out from behind the mountain yet, but there was a light in the kitchen. There was a suitcase, too, beside the door, and on the table a plate with a mess of eggs. Fran was starving.
Her daddy went on. "I'll be gone some time. A week or three. Not more. You'll take care of the summer people while I'm gone. The Robertses come up this weekend. You'll need to get their groceries tomorrow or next day. Make sure you check the expiration date on the milk when you buy it, and put fresh sheets on all the beds. I've left the house schedule on the counter and there should be enough gas in the car to make the rounds."
"Wait," Fran said. Every word hurt. "Where are you going?" He sat down on the couch beside her, then pulled something out from under him. He showed her what he held: one of Fran's old toys, the monkey egg. "Now, you know I don't like these. I wish you'd put 'em away."
"There's lots of stuff I don't like," Fran said. "Where you off to?"
"Prayer meeting in Miami. Found it on the Internet," her daddy said. He shifted on the couch, put a hand against her forehead, so cool and soothing it made her eyes leak. "You don't feel near so hot right now."
"I know you need to stay here and look after me," Fran said. "You're my daddy."
"Now, how can I look after you if I'm not right?" he said. "You don't know the things I've done."
Fran didn't know but she could guess. "You went out last night," she said. "You were drinking."
"I'm not talking about last night," he said. "I'm talking about a lifetime."
"That is—" Fran said, and then began to cough again. She coughed so long and so hard she saw bright stars. Despite the hurt in her ribs, and despite the truth that every time she managed to suck in a good pocket of air, she coughed it right back out again, the NyQuil made it all seem so peaceful, her daddy might as well have been saying a poem. Her eyelids were closing. Later, when she woke up, maybe he would make her breakfast.
"Any come around, you tell 'em I'm gone on ahead. Ary man tells you he knows the hour or the day, Fran, that man's a liar or a fool. All a man can do is be ready."
He patted her on the shoulder, tucked the counterpane up around her ears. When she woke again, it was late afternoon and her daddy was long gone. Her temperature was 102.3. All across her cheeks, the plant mister had left a red, raised rash.
On Friday, Fran went back to school. Breakfast was a spoon of peanut butter and dry cereal. She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten. Her cough scared off the crows when she went down to the county road to catch the school bus.
She dozed through three classes, including calculus, before having such a fit of coughing the teacher sent her off to see the nurse. The nurse, she knew, was liable to call her daddy and send her home. This might have presented a problem, but on the way to the nurse's station, Fran came upon Ophelia Merck at her locker.
Ophelia Merck had her own car, a Lexus. She and her family had been summer people, except now they lived in their house up at Horse Cove on the lake all year round. Years ago, Fran and Ophelia had spent a summer of afternoons playing with Ophelia's Barbies while Fran's father smoked out a wasps' nest, repainted cedar siding, tore down an old fence. They hadn't really spoken since then, though once or twice after that summer, Fran's father brought home paper bags full of Ophelia's hand-me--downs, some of them still with the price tags.
Fran eventually went through a growth spurt, which put a stop to that; Ophelia was still tiny, even now. And far as Fran could figure, Ophelia hadn't changed much in most other ways: pretty, shy, spoiled, and easy to boss around. The rumor was her family'd moved full-time to Robbinsville from Lynchburg after a teacher caught Ophelia kissing another girl in the bathroom at a school dance. It was either that or Mr. Merck being up for malpractice, which was the other story, take your pick.
"Ophelia Merck," Fran said. "I need you to come with me to see Nurse Tannent. She's going to tell me to go home. I'll need a ride."
Ophelia opened her mouth and closed it. She nodded.
Fran's temperature was back up again, at 102. Tannent even wrote Ophelia a note to go off campus.
"I don't know where you live," Ophelia said. They were in the parking lot, Ophelia searching for her keys.
"Take the county road," Fran said. "129." Ophelia nodded. "It's up a ways on Wild Ridge, past the hunting camps." She lay back against the headrest and closed her eyes. "Oh, hell. I forgot. Can you take me by the convenience first? I have to get the Robertses' house put right."
"I guess I can do that," Ophelia said.
At the convenience, Fran picked up milk, eggs, whole-wheat sandwich bread, and cold cuts for the Robertses, Tylenol and more NyQuil for herself, as well as a can of frozen orange juice, microwave burritos, and Pop-Tarts. "On the tab," she told Andy.
"I hear your pappy got himself into trouble the other night," Andy said.
"That so," Fran said. "He went down to Florida yesterday morning. He said he needs to get right with God."
"God ain't who your pappy needs to get on his good side," Andy said.
Fran pressed her hand against her burning eye. "What's he done?"
"Nothing that can't be fixed with the application of some greaze and good manners," Andy said. "You tell him we'll see to't when he come back."
Half the time her daddy got to drinking, Andy and Andy's cousin Ryan were involved, never mind it was a dry county. Andy kept all kinds of liquor out back in his van for everwho wanted it and knew to ask. The good stuff came from over the county line, in Andrews. The best stuff, though, was the stuff Fran's daddy made. Everyone said that Fran's daddy's brew was too good to be strictly natural. Which was true. When he wasn't getting right with God, Fran's daddy got up to all kinds of trouble. Fran's best guess was that, in this particular situation, he'd promised to supply something that God was not now going to let him deliver. "I'll tell him you said so."
Ophelia was looking over the list of ingredients on a candy wrapper, but Fran could tell she was interested. When they got back into the car Fran said, "Just because you're doing me a favor don't mean you need to know my business."
"Okay," Ophelia said.
"Okay," Fran said. "Good. Now mebbe you can take me by the Robertses' place. It's over on—"
"I know where the Robertses' house is," Ophelia said. "My mom played bridge over there all last summer."
The Robertses hid their spare key under a fake rock just like everybody else. Ophelia stood at the door like she was waiting to be invited in. "Well, come on," Fran said.
There wasn't much to be said about the Robertses' house. There was an abundance of plaid, and everywhere Toby Jugs and statuettes of dogs pointing, setting, or trotting along with birds in their gentle mouths.
Fran made up the smaller bedrooms and did a hasty vacuum downstairs while Ophelia made up the master bedroom and caught the spider that had made a home in the wastebasket. She carried it outside. Fran didn't quite have the breath to make fun of her for this. They went from room to room, making sure there were working bulbs in the light fixtures and that the cable wasn't out. Ophelia sang under her breath while they worked. They were both in choir, and Fran found herself evaluating Ophelia's voice. A soprano, warm and light at the same time, where Fran was an alto and somewhat froggy even when she didn't have the flu.
"Stop it," she said out loud, and Ophelia turned and looked at her. "Not you," Fran said. She ran the tap water in the kitchen sink until it was clear. She coughed for a long time and spat into the drain. It was almost four o'clock. "We're done here."
"How do you feel?" Ophelia said.
"Like I've been kicked all over," Fran said.
"I'll take you home," Ophelia said. "Is anyone there, in case you start feeling worse?"
Fran didn't bother answering, but somewhere between the school lockers and the Robertses' master bedroom, Ophelia seemed to have decided that the ice was broken. She talked about a TV show, about the party neither of them would go to on Saturday night. Fran began to suspect that Ophelia had had friends once, down in Lynchburg. She complained about calculus homework and talked about the sweater she was knitting. She mentioned a girl rock band that she thought Fran might like, even offered to burn her a CD. Several times, she exclaimed as they drove up the county road.
"I'll never get used to it, to living up here year round," Ophelia said. "I mean, we haven't even been here a whole year, but ... It's just so beautiful. It's like another world, you know?"
"Not really," Fran said. "Never been anywhere else."
"Oh," Ophelia said, not quite deflated by this reply. "Well, take it from me. It's freaking gorgeous here. Everything is so pretty it almost hurts. I love morning, the way everything is all misty. And the trees! And every time the road snakes around a corner, there's another waterfall. Or a little pasture, and it's all full of flowers. All the hollers." Fran could hear the invisible brackets around the word. "It's like you don't know what you'll see, what's there, until suddenly you're right in the middle of it all. Are you applying to college anywhere next year? I was thinking about vet school. I don't think I can take another English class. Large animals. No little dogs or guinea pigs. Maybe I'll go out to California."
Fran said, "We're not the kind of people who go to college."
"Oh," Ophelia said. "You're a lot smarter than me, you know? So I just thought ..."
"Turn here," Fran said. "Careful. It's not paved."
They went up the dirt road, through the laurel beds, and into the little meadow with the nameless creek. Fran could feel Ophelia suck in a breath, probably trying her hardest not to say something about how beautiful it was. And it was beautiful, Fran knew. You could hardly see the house itself, 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. Bumblebees, their legs armored in gold, threaded through the meadow grass, almost too weighed down with pollen to fly.
"It's old," Fran said. "Needs a new roof. My great-granddaddy ordered it out of the Sears catalog. Men brought it up the side of the mountain in pieces, and all the Cherokee who hadn't gone away yet came and watched." She was amazed at herself: next thing she would be asking Ophelia to come for a sleepover.
She opened the car door and heaved herself out, plucked up the poke of groceries. Before she could turn and thank Ophelia for the ride, Ophelia was out of the car as well. "I thought," Ophelia said uncertainly. "Well, I thought maybe I could use your bathroom?"
"It's an outhouse," Fran said, deadpan. Then she relented: "Come on in, then. It's a regular bathroom. Just not very clean."
Ophelia didn't say anything when they came into the kitchen. Fran watched her take it in: the heaped dishes in the sink, the pillow and raggedy quilt on the sagging couch. The piles of dirty laundry beside the efficiency washer in the kitchen. The places where tendrils of vine had found a way inside around the windows. "I guess you might be thinking it's funny," she said. "My pa and me make money doing other people's houses, but we don't take no real care of our own."
"I was thinking that somebody ought to be taking care of you," Ophelia said. "At least while you're sick."
Fran gave a little shrug. "I do fine on my own," she said. "Washroom's down the hall."
She took two NyQuil while Ophelia was gone and washed them down with the last swallow or two of ginger ale out of the refrigerator. Flat, but still cool. Then she lay down on the couch and pulled the counterpane up around her face. She huddled into the lumpy cushions. Her legs ached, her face felt hot as fire. Her feet were ice cold.
A minute later Ophelia sat down beside her.
"Ophelia?" Fran said. "I'm grateful for the ride home and for the help at the Robertses', but I don't go for girls. So don't lez out."
Ophelia said, "I brought you a glass of water. You need to stay hydrated."
"Mmm," Fran said.
"You know, your dad told me once that I was going to hell," Ophelia said. "He was over at our house doing something. Fixing a burst pipe, maybe? I don't know how he knew. I was eleven. I don't think I knew, not yet, anyway. He didn't bring you over to play after he said that, even though I never told my mom."
"My daddy thinks everyone is going to hell," Fran said from under the counterpane. "I don't care where I go, as long as it ain't here and he's not there."
Ophelia didn't say anything for a minute or two and she didn't get up to leave, either, so finally Fran poked her head out. Ophelia had a toy in her hand, the monkey egg. She turned it over, and then over again.
"Give here," Fran said. "I'll work it." She wound the filigreed dial and set the egg on the floor. The toy vibrated ferociously. Two pincerlike legs and a scorpion tail made of figured brass shot out of the bottom hemisphere, and the egg wobbled on the legs in one direction and then another, the articulated tail curling and lashing. Portholes on either side of the top hemisphere opened and two arms wriggled out and reached up, rapping at the dome of the egg until that, too, cracked open with a click. A monkey's head, wearing the egg dome like a hat, popped out. Its mouth opened and closed in ecstatic chatter, red garnet eyes rolling, arms describing wider and wider circles in the air until the clockwork ran down and all of its extremities whipped back into the egg again.
"What in the world?" Ophelia said. She picked up the egg, tracing the joins with a finger.
"It's just something that's been in our family," Fran said. She stuck her arm out of the quilt, grabbed a tissue, and blew her nose for maybe the thousandth time. "We didn't steal it from no one, that's what you're thinking."
"No," Ophelia said, and then frowned. "It's just—I've never seen anything like it. It's like a Fabergé egg. It ought to be in a museum."
There were lots of other toys. The laughing cat and the waltzing elephants; the swan you wound up, who chased the dog. Other toys that Fran hadn't played with in years. The mermaid who combed garnets out of her own hair. Bawbees for babies, her mother had called them.
"I remember now," Ophelia said. "When you came and played at my house. You brought a silver minnow. It was smaller than my little finger. We put it in the bathtub, and it swam around and around. You had a little fishing rod, too, and a golden worm that wriggled on the hook. You let me catch the fish, and when I did, it talked. It said it would give me a wish if I let it go."
"You wished for two pieces of chocolate cake," Fran said.
"And then my mother made a chocolate cake, didn't she?" Ophelia said. "So the wish came true. But I could only eat one piece. Maybe I knew she was going to make a cake? Except why would I wish for something that I already knew I was going to get?"
Fran said nothing. She watched Ophelia through slit eyes.
"Do you still have the fish?" Ophelia asked.
Fran said, "Somewhere. The clockwork ran down. It didn't give wishes no more. I reckon I didn't mind. It only ever granted little wishes."
"Ha ha," Ophelia said. She stood up. "Tomorrow's Saturday. I'll come by in the morning to make sure you're okay."
"You don't have to," Fran said.
"No," Ophelia said. "I don't have to. But I will."
Excerpted from Get In Trouble by Kelly Link. Copyright © 2015 Kelly Link. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Kelly Link is the author of the collections Get in Trouble, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. She and Gavin J. Grant have co-edited a number of anthologies, including multiple volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and, for young adults, Monstrous Affections. She is the co-founder of Small Beer Press. Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Link was born in Miami, Florida. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Now this is good writing. Get in Trouble is the long awaited book by Kelly Link. This book features a collection of nine stories, all of them accentuate the skill of this writer. Although I have never read Kelly Link’s work before, I am an instant fan. I fell into every story. These stories led me into unfamiliar territory. The author leaves no place safe. There is no guessing where these stories lead. The story twists in the most unthinkable way. All of these tales are complete. At first reading each story seems strangely normal, but the the author throws these tweaks into them and the experience is transformed. I realized I couldn’t stop reading until the story was through. Although I admit some of these subjects/characters are a bit far out. I found myself right in their head, feeling safe and well cared for. I should warn you, these nine stories are very different. It is hard to believe the were all written by the same person. Summer People was a bit of witchcraft/fantasy, where as I Can See Right Through You was a ghost-ish story of lost love, sort of. Secret Identity was about a girl pulling a catfish on a much older man. The Lesson is about a surrogate mother and the family that takes the baby. Valley of the Girls lost me a bit. The language, the type and symbols just frustrated me. I skipped over that one. Origin really through me for a loop. I didn’t see the characters the way they were at all. I won’t spoil it for you. I had to go back and read it over once I caught the twist. There were a lot of good tales in this book. I have to admit that some of these stories lost me right away. I had to force myself through it to understand what I was reading. That is a talent I think that many people may not appreciate. This book is an acquired taste. Not for every reader. I liked it but I could see why some people may hate this whole book. I will definitely pick up a full length novel from this author. This collection made me a fan of the author’s style.
Get in Trouble is a collection of nine short stories by American author, Kelly Link. Each of the stories has been previously published in other publications from as early as 2006. The stories are varied in both format and subject matter, although each one seems to feature some element of alternate reality and have a highly original plot with a twist or two to keep it interesting. There are Summer Visitors of quite a different kind, internet gaming worlds, an internet date that goes wrong in an unpredictable manner, an unusual theme park, a pair of nervous expectant gay fathers, bizarre teen toys, weird pocket universes and an attempted suicide with a potato peeler. In these very different stories, Link manages to somehow logically combine: butter sculptures, dentists and superheroes; a surrogate mother, a gay couple, a bunch of left-over wedding dresses and a premmy baby; space ships, haunted houses and ghost stories; a jealous teenager, an antique locket and a ghost toy; pyramids, an asp and a pair of spoiled rich siblings; double shadows, twins, mermaids, iguanas and a hurricane; a Land of Oz theme park, superpowers and a childhood friend; a demon lover, an actress and a ghost. There is plenty of dark humour in these tales; they are imaginative, sexy, often fantastic and great fun to read. Fans of Kelly Link’s work will not be disappointed with this latest collection.
Deliciously bizarre. And bizarrely delicious. There are no words that can adequately describe these stories. You have to read them yourself.