Thursday, November 20, 2014

Magical Magicalism

I had never heard of Kelly Link until her name appeared before me on Netgalley.  But she's a writer of short stories, and short stories are Not My Thing, so I pretty much passed the book by.

Then her name suddenly started appearing everywhere (well, at least some somewheres), and I got curious, and I went back to Netgalley and asked politely for a review copy of Get in Trouble, her newest collection.  And Netgalley (well, Random House, via Netgalley) generously let me have a copy with the intent of my providing a fair and balanced review, and I began to read.

I had no idea what to expect.

It started out easy, with a story told in a linear fashion, one with characters operating in a recognizable world, albeit with fantastical elements.  "The Summer People" is about a high school girl, mostly on her own, who keeps house for those other folks.  But she does more than make beds, and the magic that unfolds is lovely--this story made me so happy and I fell in love right away.

This is the point where I emailed Brenda and asked if she'd heard of Kelly Link (because I hadn't).  She said yeah, but magical realism wasn't her thing.  I was surprised, because that's not what the first story was.  I started the next one.

Okay, this is a little odder.  "I Can See Right Through You" is a trickier story--plunks you down in the middle, with a lot of names and not much to get a grip on.  The time jumps around, a lot, and the main character is called "the demon lover."  I got about eight pages in before I got who was who, and then I went back to the beginning and started again.  This time, it was easier.  It's the story of an actor who got famous playing a young, hot vampire, but who's getting a little older now, and whose personal life is falling apart.  He's trying to get himself together by visiting his ex and oldest friend, who played his human lover in that first, definitive role.  It's about getting older, and trying to hold onto the things that are real, and yeah, that's magical realism.

Then we go back to straightforward, with some humor, where a teenaged girl gets off the bus in New York to meet a man she's been chatting with online.  He's in his 30s, and he thinks she is, too, and most of the story takes place in a hotel where there is a dentist convention AND a superhero convention (actual superheroes, not comics or cosplay) at the same hotel.  It's about adolescence and not belonging and painful discoveries, and it's sweet and funny and yeah, there are superheroes, but mostly it's just fun in the way a "meeting someone from the internet and it all goes horribly wrong" stories can be.

By now, I'm settled in a bit, and I can see where the magical realism is.  I can also see that her thing is to plunge you into a new world without only small clues--not just a world of the future or an alternate now, but a cast of characters with a history that they hint at.  Each story starts in the middle of things, and for most of them, I ended up flipping back to the beginning once I figured out who the characters were, what the terminology meant, and where things were going.

All of these are facts, I'm realizing now.  Yes, this is the story of reading the book--what did you think of it?  Did you like it?  Yes, a lot, actually.  I found these stories challenging, but worth it.  I found them all very different from each other, which is not often how I feel about a collection by a single author and which is amazing.  I found them daring, both emotionally and in form.  I found them exciting, with characters I wanted to know more about and mysteries or action I wanted to follow to the end.

Do I recommend it?  Yes.  Very highly, actually.  I'm not a short story person, but if more were like this, I might be.

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