When someone tells me to stay out of trouble, I invariably respond with, “Never.”
Well behaved women seldom make history, after all.
These nine stories are fantastically dark and brooding, but not so dark as to leave you utterly depressed at their end. They touch on death, suicide, betrayal, secrets kept and secrets revealed, creepy trends, the afterlife, and more.
My favorite story from the collection is the first one, “The Summer People” (which you can read online at The Wallstreet Journal for free!). It begins as one thing and transforms into another, and I love the way Link leads the reader from grounded reality to an otherworldly fantastical place.
Some short story collections feel scattered or uneven, but this one never misses a step. Once you’re thrown off balance by the unreality and harshness of that first story, Link keeps you unsettled through the rest of the collection, hardly giving you room to breathe. Her prose is fantastical but solid—you know there’s more bubbling under the surface, even if you can only glimpse it.
The characters are all complex, flawed, and relatable. They don’t always behave well (you can guess that from the title), but you can’t help but relate to them anyway. (And who behaves well all the time, anyway?)
One of the subtler themes in this book is that of longing and belonging. Many of the characters want something that they cannot have, or can only have at someone else’s expense. Some of them appear to belong to a group, but feel isolated and alone. Watching them all work through their problems, sometimes to a tragic conclusion, is riveting and heartbreaking.
For the audiobook, each story has a different narrator; a common practice for audiobooks of short story collections. Generally, there’s at least one narrator I can’t stand (it was hard for me to get through Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes because one of the narrators irritated me so much, and of course that one read multiple stories), but there wasn’t a bad one in this bunch.
Like the stories, the narrators feel as if they go together. There’s no discord or disharmony in their reading—each one fits the story he or she reads, and they sound good next to each other.
If you like authors like Karen Russell, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, and/or Aimee Bender, give Kelly Link a try.
Note: This review originally appeared on the Eleventh Stack blog.