Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Horrible Beauty: Get In Trouble today

There's nothing like an election season to turn my thoughts to horror. Instinctively, I load up on horror movies and fiction to dull the truly ugly realities of the American political system.*

So, as the elections rage on, I've watched everything from Z-Nation (zombies killed with giant wheel of cheese) to the quietly paced, theologically-delving, Colonial American The Witch to the contemporary Irish new-to-a-weird-rural-village, The Hallow. I've been reading lots of extremely short stories to find addictive little bits to use in my fall classes, so I was quite intrigued when someone referenced Kelly Link's short story collection Get In Trouble.

I read the entire collection in less than 24 hours- which, with three young kids, means giving up my steady nighttime commitment of Netflix and shirking even more household duties than normal.

As a horror story reader, I love experiencing the story unfolding unspoiled before me-- so I will stick to generalities.

I loved Link's old-school perspective which expertly wields the unseen, the looming, and the quite-possibly-only-imagined.  Kelly Link reminds me of the mid-century British writer John Wyndham- who wrote the books behind Village of the Damned (The Midwich Cuckoos) and 28 Days Later (Day of the Triffids)-- among others.

Kelly Link is a skilled world-builder. Her stories bear no consistent locale, time period, or reality. This collection includes an on-location ghost-hunting reality show in Florida swampland, contemporary Appalachia, a future where bored children of the uber-wealthy commission full-scale pyramid tombs, a colonizing mission to Mars, and two of the world's most logical horror settings-- high school and hometown reunions. With a beautiful playfulness, Link sometimes allows the details of one fantastic place to appear in another, slightly-related story. Like the breaking of the fourth wall in film, these details play with the form and the medium.

Link's fiction gets in your head and under your skin without resorting to the merely sensational and repulsive. It lurks and insinuates making shadows shift in even the brightest landscapes.

Link's detail is measured- not overreaching, but fully drawn- and exacting- leaving jeweled details that rewards the observant reader.

The opening story, "The Summer People," immediately sent up red flags with me. Its Appalachian setting with poor characters and vernacular speech took the story toward a place where most writers should never go. I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the end of the first story-- much less the second story, but Link didn't allow her story to be consumed by stereotypes. All my trepidation dissipated when the too-familiar elements reassembled into a new nightmare carefully wrought from ancient lore.

All but one of Link's stories clearly center around young female characters, but they're not lambs waiting for the slaughter (or salvation). These wily women carve their own destinies. It's refreshing- even though the charater's outcomes vary wildly.

For a tiny taste of the stories:  "I Can See Right Through You" involves a ghost hunting reality show at the site of the mysterious 1974 disappearance of twenty-two nudists. "Secret Identity" reveals side-by-side hotel conventions of superheroes and dentists, a 15-year-old girl who finds her own yearning and authenticity in a MMORPG, and figuring out who you are when you just don't fit anywhere.

"The Valley of the Girls" takes readers to a world where the profoundly wealthy in a neo-Egyptian trend build competing pyramids for their teenage children."Origin Story" makes sly references to superhero tropes introduced in "Secret Identity," but is a stand-alone tale with entirely different motives. "Two Houses" involves campfire storytelling aboard a exploratory spaceship headed to the nearest Goldilocks planet.

The book has nine stories in all, and I loved each one. If you like horror and seeing new stories borne from old ones, this book is for you.

To which fantastic worlds are you escaping?

If you want to see what I'm reading, friend me on Goodreads.

*Please note: I'm discouraged, but not politically disengaged. To the contrary, I'm politically active year-round- so much that my state house representative has blocked me on Twitter. I'm just so disappointed to see my fellow citizens with convictions not vote or others voting without a thought for the long-term implications. I love public education and public libraries. We all need to vote to protect these things-- they are increasingly endangered by for-profit interests.

***Baby Toolkit is an almost decade-long conversation between some geeky Midwestern parents and other netizens. We love and talk games and gaming communities at our Great Big Table podcast. We're so unaffiliated with the publishers of Get in Trouble that the copy we read came from our AWESOME local library, but we are Amazon affiliates-- so if you buy anything through our Amazon links, a small portion of the sale comes back to us where it might be spent on domain names, an increasingly feeble DSL connection, or world domination. Thanks for reading. We love you.

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