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Christian

Kelly Link

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The PR push for Kelly Link's new collection of stories, Get in Trouble, has been pretty effective. I keep seeing articles about Link and reviews of her book, one of which I read Sunday in the New York Times. It was a strongly positive review.

 

I think I first heard of Link years ago when I picked up the Library of America collection, American Fantastic Tales. One of the reviewers of that collection mentioned Link as a later (chronologically) contributor, then laughed her off because her story -- and I remember this wording -- was, he wrote, about "killer bunnies." 

 

I still haven't  made my way through the first volume of American Fantastic Tales, not to mention the second, and I've resisted the urge to jump ahead and read the Link story. But the Get in Trouble press made me curious enough to look up what the local library carried by Link, who, Get in Trouble reviews inform me, hadn't issued a new collection for 10 years before Trouble

 

The library carries a steampunk anthology edited by Link as well as a couple of short-story collections: Magic for Beginners (2005), Pretty Monsters (2008 -- hey, that's not yet a decade ago!) and Stranger Things Happen (2001). I grabbed the latter for my trip this past weekend and started into it on the bus ride home. I've read the first four stories.

 

Given that I've heard the Straub collection billed as a "best horror" collection, even though "horror" isn't in the title, I'd assumed Link was a horror writer. The Get in Trouble reviews I've seen dance around that word, referring to her as a genre writer (but what genre?) whose stories take odd turns -- akin to The Twilight Zone, or something like that. 

 

The reluctance to label certain authors as "horror" writers is a broader topic, but it might be worth dwelling on somewhat here because, based on the first few stories in Stranger Things Happen, I have no qualms calling Link a horror writer. I suppose the term has come to be associated with blood and outright gore, so people who deal with horrific thematic material designed to unsettle rather than gross out readers or make them "jump" (can a book do that?) prefer to be called ... something else. OK, fine. If it helps them build a stable of literary readers (horror being too lowbrow to be literary?), then so be it. But while these stories are, yes, weird, and strange, and unsettling, and fantastical, they're basically horror stories. 

 

I don't know if Link's style has evolved since this 2001 collection. Perhaps it has. And I don't know if I'll feel the same way once I read beyond the first four stories. But I like what I've read so far. The stories do take unusual turns -- not right at the end, but sometimes quite early. I don't know how I feel, exactly, about where the stories end up, but I'm willing to keep reading for now and get more of an idea about Link's output. 

Edited by Christian

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I've read a couple of Links. She's a very strong writer; extremely intelligent and progressive. Straub called Stone Animals "one of the greatest stories of the past two decades." It's a postmodern haunted house novella that attempts to redefine the meaning of "haunted." It's not about killer bunnies, not really, although they are definitely there, gathering at the periphery of the narrative.

 

I think Link bears comparison with Shirley Jackson (she's got a similarly witchy touch), but her work sort of feels like an evolutionary leap forward in feminist literature, very now. A voice for our chaotic age. Of course, I know little about contemporary trends in literature, feminism, or women in general, so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.

 

But Stone Animals is amazing and disturbing; the work of a brilliant mind staring into the void. But it also reminds me why I prefer Walter de la Mare to most contemporary writers working in the genre: We share a moral universe, but he has a deeper sense of it than I do. His stories chill and unsettle and upset, but they always come back to something solid, something vaguely theological. Link's universe is alien to me, yet I recognize the power in her way of seeing and expressing.

Edited by Nathaniel

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Michael Dirda:

 

"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."

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Thanks, Nathaniel. You beat me to it. I saw that review and was reminded to come here this morning to thank you for your thoughtful earlier reply -- I'm sadly unfamiliar with Walter de la Mare -- and to link to Dirda's review, which is strong.

Edited by Christian

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I've read enough of Strange Things Happen to feel comfortable retracting my earlier statement about Link being classified as a horror writer. I frankly don't know how to classify her. Nor am I sure I'm an outright fan; the most recent batch of stories have lost me along the way, unlike the first few stories in the collection.

 

Oh, and during a church talent show, one of the contestants recited a Walter de la Mare poem. Now I feel really stupid.

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Oh, and during a church talent show, one of the contestants recited a Walter de la Mare poem. Now I feel really stupid.

 

No kidding? Was it "The Listeners?"

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Oh, and during a church talent show, one of the contestants recited a Walter de la Mare poem. Now I feel really stupid.

 

No kidding? Was it "The Listeners?"

 

The poem I heard recited was "Snow."

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Oh, and during a church talent show, one of the contestants recited a Walter de la Mare poem. Now I feel really stupid.

 

No kidding? Was it "The Listeners?"

 

The poem I heard recited was "Snow."

 

 

Sweet

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First, Nathaniel: I've been corrected on the name of the poem mentioned above. It's Winter, not Snow.

 

Second, a library copy of Get in Trouble has been obtained. I was not entirely sold on Strange Things Happen, but I liked it enough to press on with Link's work and see how she might have developed as a storyteller.

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I've read enough of Strange Things Happen to feel comfortable retracting my earlier statement about Link being classified as a horror writer. I frankly don't know how to classify her. Nor am I sure I'm an outright fan; the most recent batch of stories have lost me along the way, unlike the first few stories in the collection.

The downward slope of my impression of Link's stories accelerated as I read through Get in Trouble. I have little idea what these stories are, or why I was supposed to be drawn in by them. Yeah, sure: Maybe I'm showing my own limitations as a reader. But in the case of Link, my experience of her work, although not comprehensive, has been one of dramatically diminishing returns.

 

I'm very disappointed.

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For a book I didn't care for, Get in Trouble sure does keep provoking posts from me, doesn't it?

 

This one is a roundtable interview at Salon that Link took part in, and I found her answers interesting. Sample:

 

Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?

 

LINK: Bed rest. A year and a half of close observation of hospital culture, hospital routines. Watching television with poets. Talking about romance novels that I haven’t read. Some other stuff that I don’t remember.

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