CBR10Bingo: Not in My Wheelhouse
It wasn’t always like this.
In junior high I discovered Stephen King’s short stories before any of his novels. These were my road trip and summer vacation books. I loved that I could read a story or two, put the book away and do something else, and then pick it up later and start fresh with something new. Night Shift and Skeleton Crew and Different Seasons were my gateway drugs to Cujo and The Shining and Misery.
I don’t know when the change happened, whether it was sudden or gradual, but it’s been several years since I’ve truly enjoyed a short story collection — maybe not since James Joyce’s Dubliners my freshman year of college. I always seem to like only one or two stories, and the rest just don’t do anything for me. Short stories require an immediate connection, and I’m much more of a slow burn kind of guy. I wish I could say Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble was a break in the pattern, but I can’t.
I liked her overall concept of stories where everything seems normal . . . except. In “The Summer People” Fran is a normal poor teenager with a job running errands and keeping house . . . except the house belongs to mysterious, unseen people with magical powers. In “The New Boyfriend” a normal rich teenager gets an extravagant birthday present from her mother . . . except that present is a life-sized, animatronic Boyfriend doll that may or may not contain a ghost. In “Origin Story” a normal pair of former high school sweethearts mess around in an abandoned theme park . . . except the man is a superhero and the woman can levitate.
Though I can’t say I really enjoyed the read, I appreciated Link’s imaginative situations and solid writing and snarky humor, which came through in lines like the one I used for this review’s title. I struggled with forward momentum, though, and had to put the book down for a few weeks while a read a few novels to get my rhythm back. When I picked it up again, I plowed ahead just as slowly until I reached these seemingly mundane yet entirely magical lines in “The Lesson”:
Fleur spent her twenties as a bartender in various Boston bars. She and Thanh met at ManRay. ManRay has been closed for a long time now. Thousands of years.
Ain’t that the truth. ManRay was in Central Square in Cambridge, and every Thursday was Campus, the gay night that seemingly brought in all of the students from Harvard and MIT and BU and Tufts for cheap drinks and sweaty dancing, followed by a drunken stumble down Mass Ave to Falafel Palace or a packed cab ride to Dolly’s in Davis Square, the all-night diner that opened at 10pm and closed at 6am. For one amazing year back in the late 90’s, I was able to rig my schedule so I didn’t have to work on Fridays, allowing me to stay out late with my friends and not pay dearly the next morning.
Funny how one buried line in a book can open a flood of memories.
This book was always going to be problematic for me, so I’m the wrong person to write this review. If you like short stories with a fantastical twist, you might like it. I wish I’d enjoyed it more than I did, but if for nothing else than being reminded of those oh-so-good times at ManRay in my early 20’s, I’m glad I read it.