Tao Lin vs. Kelly Link — Tournament of Short Stories II

For this the first battle in round one of my second tournament of short stories I read three from Bed by Tao Lin and three from Get in Trouble by Kelly Link.  While I knew Kelly Link going into this from stories featured on Podcastle, I picked Tao Lin off of the shelves at Skylight Books in Los Angeles at random.  I liked the cover art; I confess.

I enjoyed two of the three Tao Lin stories I read for this round: “Three-Day Cruise” and “Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues.”  Two days after reading them I’m stuck wondering just what they were about.  After a period of struggle a family goes on what’s meant to be a celebratory cruise in the first one.  The best part is a dinner scene where they each describe the animal they see  death as.  In the second one a severe social misfit is taken in by a group of high school students out for a wild night.   I liked the characters Mr. Lin created, but I’m not sure I really see the point of it all.  Their resolution was good, but not great. However, they are just three in a larger volume and they were good enough to keep the rest of the book in my TBR pile.

I’ve been wanting to get an anthology by Kelly Link for a while now.  The Hortlock,” which she wrote, is one of my favorite Podcastle episodes.  It takes place in a convienence store located on the edge of a zombie filled abyss.  Skylight Books had two by Kelly Link, so I bought the one without “The Hortlock” in it.   It’s also got a cool cover but that is not why I bought it.

I liked all three of the Kelly Link stories I read this time around: “The Summer People,” “I Can See Right Through You,” and “Secret Identity.”  The stories did not feel as dark as the three by Tao Lin, though they were about similar social misfits.  Ms. Link’s stories all contain an element of fantasy, though it can sometimes be very hard to spot.  This was the case with “I Can See Right Through You” which was my favorite of the three.

The story is about two ex-lovers who met while working on a vampire movie.  He was the vampire; she was the vampire lover.  I think.  It’s not really clear to me, but that didn’t matter.  The two went on to fame and fortune, were together for a while then separated but remained very close friends sometimes with benefits.  She eventually left fame behind, moved on to more spiritual matters, then returned to show business as the head of a ghost hunters type show.  He continued on in movies through a series of girlfriends until one made a sex-tape that threatens to ruin him.  So he shows up on her “set” seeking solace, a break from his life, maybe to rekindle things.  She, however, is now seeing someone else.

The fantasy element comes from the fact that he is referred to as “The Demon Lover” all the time.  Is he somehow a real demon?  He seems to have some odd sort of power over her throughout the story, as he does over other women.  I wondered if he really was a vampire which would have made their movie interesting. Though vampires can’t appear on film, I think.  Various women come up to him, asking him to bite them.  Similar things happened to her, too.  I suppose such things must have happened to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee back in the day.  I wondered if Ms. Link had those films in mind here.  I really hope it wasn’t Bella and Edward.

The fantasy element doesn’t come in full force until the very end, when it turns out to be quite a delicious little surprise.  Things weren’t really what we thought they were, though I’m not really sure what they were exactly.

But I’m not sure in a way that was very entertaining.

So, with a score of three to two, I’m giving this round to Kelly Link.  Get in Trouble advances to the next round.