I would rather read Kelly Link than breathe. Writing about her is another thing again. I do not know why her new book is called Get In Trouble. I can think of lots of possible reasons. I don't suppose it's really a fragmentary warning to over-confident reviewers but, then again, this is Kelly Link.
There are writers who are very difficult to describe. Most of them are bad writers, and they're hard to describe in the same way that fog is hard to sculpt: any precise account you give of their work makes them sound less diffuse and more competent than they are.
Link is hard to describe in the way jazz might be if you had never heard it before. Or even heard of it, or thought of anyone attempting anything like it. She's quicksilver, whimsical, impossible to pin down. She knows what she's doing. She doesn't necessarily want you to know.
Link writes short stories. This is her third collection, not counting 2008's Pretty Monsters, which was aimed at young adults and contained several stories from her two earlier books. (But most of its stories were new; and they were all as sophisticated and elusive and engaging as her non-YA material. So maybe this should be considered her fourth collection. Even the maths of Link criticism is problematic.)
The new stories feature pocket universes, steampunk fairies, androids, mummies, ghosts. They are fantasy, but not really; science fiction, but not really; definitely not postmodern, except sometimes; in no way whatsoever magic realist, except for people who use that term to mean "speculative fiction, but I prefer not to admit I enjoy that stuff".
All of these labels are necessary to give you a sense of her flavour, but none of them gets you far with her, unless you've read enough fantasy to give the word its broadest and least genre-bound sense: "Fiction in which anything at all may happen."
One of the nine stories in this book takes place in a hotel where two conventions are being held simultaneously, one for dentists, the other for superheroes. Pop geekery and the very mundane, glancing awkwardly at each other in the lift, both of them getting in the way of our 15-year-old narrator, who has no great interest in either of them.
She's inadvisedly come to town to meet her internet romance: inadvisedly because she told him she was in her 30s. Possibly he's a superhero. Possibly he's a dentist. Possibly he won't show up. Does she really want him to show up? There is no such thing as the definitive Link situation, or else this would be it.
Only one thing defines Link, and that's her intelligence. The gaps between her sentences can be bracingly wide: walking in her footsteps, you sometimes find yourself asked to leap buildings and dance lightly over ice floes. She won't catch you if you fall. Her characters take the absurd strangeness of their lives for granted in precisely the way we all do, deceive themselves as often and understand themselves as little as we do.
Here is one of them, reflecting on his new parenthood, at the end of the most terrifying and moving treatment of the subject I've ever read: "The boy is loved. The loved one suffers. All loved ones suffer. Love is not enough to prevent this. Love is not enough. Love is enough. The thing that you wished for. Was this it?"
This book is everything I wished for.
Get In Trouble
by Kelly Link
David Larsen is an Auckland reviewer.