I have a feeling that this book is a case of its not you, it’s me. In addition to my goal for Cannonball (65 books this year) I’m working on the Read Harder Challenge put on by Book Riot. As part of that challenge there are 24 tasks and one of them is a short story collection. I haven’t really done much in the way of reading short story collections so this was one of the tasks that truly felt like a challenge. Late last year I read the collection My True Love Gave to Me and I had a typical experience: inevitably there are some which are too long, and some which are too short. And some that are just, well, terrible. Of the stories which I loved from that collection one was Kelly Link’s The Lady and the Fox. Once I decided to do the Read Harder Challenge I went back to the stories I loved from My True Love Gave to Me to hunt up collections and lo and behold Kelly Link had a new collection coming out in 2015. I immediately signed myself up for the waitlist at the library. Challenge solved!
And if only it were so easy. Her latest work, Get in Trouble, comes highly rated with lots of awesome pull quotes on the back cover. And I thought this was going to be a case of discovering a new delivery method of awesome stories. This was going to be another experience with audiobooks! But, no. Don’t get me wrong, the writing – when it’s good, it’s really good. But it’s also inconsistent. Some stories feel overwritten, some feel underwritten, and I have BIG problems with some of the formatting that happens in the stories.
There are nine stories included in Get in Trouble, and of those I enjoyed five. This simple math is what I used to decide to rate this book three stars instead of only two. But those four stories which didn’t work for me, REALLY didn’t work for me. Here are some of the issues I ran into:
- It took me far too long to “get into” the universe of each story. By the time I found my footing the story was generally over. Or I wanted it to be.
- Often the best part of the ‘bad’ stories was the mystery of what the heck the setting/interpersonal dynamics were. The plots held much less interest.
- The further I read the more confused with the narrative devices I became. Was it symbolic? Or just random and nonsensical? For some of the stories I still don’t know.
- Time jumps, POV changes, and other mechanics of storytelling are not delineated in the text. They just happen. Give me a font change, use italics or really anything to help the reader understand.
The stories which I enjoyed, and which worked for me, tended to have both younger protagonists, and to be playing with only a single idea. “The Summer People” explores the burdens of the responsibilities we take on, and the cost of friendship. The one I enjoyed the most was “Secret Identity” and works through the differences between being who we are and who we want to be. With superheroes and dentists thrown in. “The New Boyfriend,” deals with ferocious jealousy and what love is. The adult protagonist stories I enjoyed were “Light” which struck a chord both because it deals with fraught relationships and is set in South Florida (it also includes pocket universes and frozen iguana, what’s not to love). Finally, there’s “Two Houses” which almost feels like a cheat since I skimmed through the ‘horror’ parts of it, but the ending was so poignant that it won me over. To say too much would give it away.