The first sentence of the first story in Kelly Link's new collection, Get in Trouble (Random House, $25), reads, "Fran's daddy woke her up wielding a mister." If you stop there, your mind goes to some strange places: a father waking up his child by menacingly waving another man around? Is he a giant? If you've read Kelly Link's stories before, you know that certainly wouldn't be uncharacteristic; her stories almost always involve at least one fantastic element. But no. The second sentence describes him "spritzing her like a wilted houseplant," and suddenly the giant becomes a guy armed with a plastic spray bottle, an act of miraculous transmogrification in reverse. It's just a tiny little trick with words, but it demonstrates the muscular sentence-to-sentence propulsion of a Link story.
Link is gifted at warping the banal into the fantastic and back again. The rest of the story—it's titled "The Summer People"—demonstrates how Fran keeps one foot in the real world and one in the world of magic. At the beginning of the story, Fran's father abandons her for "a prayer meeting in Miami" that he found "on the Internet." Worse yet, she's sick with the flu: "Her head was stuffed with boiled wool and snot."
As a school-age girl living on her own, Fran doesn't know what to do. She can't go to the hospital because they'll ask where her parents are. So she asks her friend Ophelia to break into a mysterious house down the street to retrieve a magical cure. Like most fairy tales, "The Summer People" doesn't necessarily have a happy ending. And, like most of Link's stories, that balance between the familiar and the supernatural reveals deeper truths about both. She makes realism and fantasy prop each other up and dance, and soon they're whirling together so quickly that you can't tell the difference between the two.