book reviews by Althea

Get in Trouble – Kelly Link ****

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***** The Summer People
This story could function as a wonderful introduction to Link’s writing. It features many of the elements and themes that pop up again and again in her stories, and is executed wonderfully.
Here, we have the elements of classic fairytales (“Be bold, be bold. But not too bold – lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.”) which emerge in a lovely, but seemingly prosaic modern setting. We have the interactions of teenage girls, a legacy passed down through generations. We have things so beautiful and mysterious that they hurt the heart – with a dark undercurrent of dread and disgust. And of course, questionable motivations and an ending that while ambiguous, feels altogether ‘right.’
Since, for me, this wasn’t an introduction to her work, it was a reminder of all the reasons I admire her so much.

**** I Can See Right Through You
While reading this story, an image came into my mind: that of holding a carefully carved but strangely shaped object in my hands. Blindfolded, the reader gently explores the odd and spiky contours of this object, carefully hefting its weight, unsure of its exact measurements…
Link’s stories are like that precisely crafted but unidentified object.
Here, she spins us a tale of the fraught relationship between two celebrities. I’m usually not one for feeling too much sympathy for the tribulations of the rich and famous, but this piece worked very well. (And, the grand finale at the haunted (?) nudist resort was the perfect mix of weird and hilarious).

***** Secret Identity
A fifteen-year-old girl from a small town shows up at a New York City hotel to meet someone she’s only chatted with online. Amidst a flurry of superheroes and dentists (the hotel is hosting two conventions), a strangely touching story emerges, with a lot to say about what ‘identity’ actually might be.
Although none of the details here directly apply to me or my past (no, no one has ever assumed I was a superhero’s sidekick) this story perfectly captured the essence of what it was to be fifteen.

**** Valley of the Girls
Previously read (in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of The Year Volume 6 – Jonathan Strahan, ed.)
This story grew on me. The first time through, I found myself not liking it as much as most of Link’s work, and I kind of slid over some essential details. Then, I got to the end… and went back to the beginning, and started right over to get all those details in. It’s an exploration of the consequences of celebrity, the meaning of identity… and it’s also just plain creepy. Excellent.

***  Origin Story
This one seems to take place in the same ‘world’ as ‘Secret Identity’: a scenario where superheroes and mutants are a common and accepted part of society. At first, this conversation seems to be one between two normal (if a bit messed-up) teenagers, but gradually more is revealed: both supernatural and mundane. I didn’t feel that this one was as strong as others in this collection.

**** The New Boyfriend
Previously read (in Monstrous Affections)
On the face of it, this story is a bit teenage-y – but Link’s trademark weirdness suffuses it. Here we have a group of four high school friends. Ainslie’s a bit more indulged by her mother than the rest of them, and has been given not just one but all THREE models of the hottest new ‘toy’ – realistic robot ‘boyfriends.’ The models are Vampire, Werewolf, and the latest, hard-to-get version, Ghost. Ainslie’s best friend, Immy, is consumed with jealousy – she desperately wants a fake boyfriend of her own. Things get even more complicated when it seems that the ‘ghost’ boyfriend may be genuinely haunted.

**** Two Houses
Previously read (in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 7 – Jonathan Strahan, ed.)
A small group of astronauts, far out in lonely space, tell each other ghost stories and succeed in freaking each other out. I actually really liked the main ‘secondary’ story in the piece (creepy art installation!), but I didn’t think that the parallel that was set up worked as well as it should have.

*** Light
This one felt very, very familiar – I think I may have previously read it online (it was first published in 2007.) It takes place in a future Florida where things have gone ‘weird’: pocket universes are everywhere, alien oddities bleed into our world, and children with double shadows can ‘develop’ twins. In this world, a hard-drinking but oddly responsible woman works managing a warehouse full of sleeping bodies. In her off hours she has to dealing with her difficult gay twin, and picks up men at the local bars. I loved the setting, but in this one, the ending felt too random and inconclusive for me.

Many, many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read this excellent collection of Link’s work. As always, my opinions are solely my own.


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