Book review: "Get In Trouble." First things first, she's the weirdest

In Kelly Link's worlds, which at first glance appear identical to ours, schoolgirls with alcoholic fathers keep house for magical creatures, ghosts haunt nudist resorts, children are born with second shadows that grow into twins and memorial pyramids are built for rich brats who have surrogates represent them in public.

I'm flirting with short fiction, and Link's collection Get In Trouble sounded too bizarre to pass up. Each story blends realism and poignant introspection and observations of the human condition with really, really freaky stuff.

Some stories were clear hits for me, while others left me scratching my head. I might benefit from rereading a few tales that didn't connect with me or that had endings I found unsatisfying or too ambiguous.

The best story of the bunch was the first, "The Summer People." Fran longs to escape her home and her duty to the titular fairy tale beings who hoard, tinker and make mischief. A classmate dealing with her own isolation, Ophelia, is brought into Fran's world with the Summer People. Burdens heavier than what children should carry and questionable motives darken the whimsical setting. One of the great lines: "I have this idea that seeing your heart's desire probably makes you hungry."

Another one I enjoyed was "Secret Identity." A teenager goes to a hotel where a convention for real-life superheroes and a dentist convention are taking place. She's there to meet her Internet boyfriend, who has no idea how young she is. Humiliations ensue, along with drunkenness, bedwetting, butter-sculpture destruction and admissions of love. Standout line: "What you deserve and what you can stand aren't necessarily the same thing." Another: "Billie's heart has a crack in it. Her head is made of radiation." Anything else would give away too much, but this one broke my heart in the best way.

In "The New Boyfriend," Immy deals with ferocious jealousy when her friend Ainslie gets her third Boyfriend, a realistic robot companion, and plans to steal him away. The Boyfriend is the Ghost model, which has Embodied and Spectral settings, and maybe is harboring a real ghost that's haunting Immy and Ainslie. Favorite line: "They're making each other realer the longer they look at each other, and isn't that what love should be? Isn't that what love should do?"

It probably says a lot about me that my favorite stories are the ones with teenage girls as protagonists. But there is no more vulnerable and insightful, yet totally clueless creature as a teenage girl. That time of shameless and terrifying self-discovery is a writer's playground. My favorite story with an adult protagonist, "Light," is all about fraught relationships, with pocket universes and a green-skinned ex-husband thrown in for good measure.

Get In Trouble is worth checking out because it's so creatively expansive. It doesn't just ask you to suspend your disbelief. It asks you to subvert your expectations about fiction, never being clear-cut fantasy or science fiction or romance or literary fiction. I'd love to read more from Link. What can I say? I love freaks.

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