Kelly Link’s offbeat stories have won her a number of both genre and literary fiction awards, including the O. Henry Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories. I loved her collection Get in Trouble, so I was very happy to find a copy of her earlier collection Stranger Things Happen at a (pre-Covid) convention.
Doubling and transformation are themes that recur throughout the stories in this book, and sometimes it’s unclear which one is happening. The metaphysical boundaries between characters in Link’s stories are often blurred, such that the reader isn’t sure whether they’re duplicates of each other or if one is metamorphosing into the other. This confusion between characters is perhaps most overt in “Louise’s Ghost,” where it’s made explicit by giving the two main characters the same name. “The Girl Detective” features several sets of twelve women, which may or may not be the same set of twelve women. In “Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water,” Jak finds himself beset by an increasing number of identical blond women.
Having previously read Get in Trouble made this aspect of Stranger Things Happen particularly interesting. The fluidity of identity that’s on display in STH also turns up in several stories from GIT, from the body-doubles in “Valley of the Girls” to the duplicate houses in “Two Houses.” This is clearly a theme that’s interested Link for a long time. It’s amplified in STH, which gives some of the stories an atmosphere like walking through a Hall of Mirrors.
Fairy tales and mythology also figure predominantly in STH. “Travels with the Snow Queen,” of course, draws on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Snow Queen. “The Girl Detective” explicitly references the story of the twelve dancing princesses, while “Flying Lessons” derives some of its major characters and events from Greek mythology. Link seamlessly melds these ancient tales with modern settings—and in some cases, as in “The Girl Detective,” with modern story tropes as well. This introduces yet another form of split identities, with many characters embodying a legendary figure under the surface of their modern lives.
The breadth of awards she’s won shows Link’s command of both realistic and fantastical story elements. In Stranger Things Happen, Link demonstrates that she excels not only at telling different kinds of stories, but at blending apparently disparate elements to create stories that inhabit a liminal, dreamlike space.