Are you ever compelled to read a book simply by its name alone? That was the case for me when I came across White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link. This collection of seven short stories reimagines French lore, Scottish ballads, and the Brothers Grimm, making each classic tale fresh and utterly original.
Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an ARC of this book!
White Cat, Black Dog is a collection of seven short stories, each reimagining a tale from the Brothers Grimm, Scottish ballads, or French lore. I must confess, I was not familiar with most of the original tales; perhaps the only one that rung a bell was “Snow White and Rose Red” (which isn’t related to the more famous “Snow White”). That said, I couldn’t say how similar these stories are to the original sources of inspiration or how much Kelly Link changed them. Most of these stories seem to be set in modern times, but the haze of magical realism (or full-on fantasy) makes exact years unclear.
These stories are decidedly speculative fiction; they’re eerie and range in levels of magic and unease. They each have an unreal feeling about them, and though they certainly aren’t horror—quite the contrary, things tend to work out well for our main protagonists—they still feel unsettling. Maybe the weirdest one is the opening and titular story, “The White Cat’s Divorce.” When a billionaire sends his three adult sons on a series of wild goose hunts, it leads to a cat-run weed farm in Colorado, tiny dogs that fit inside acorns, and a continuously beheaded cat woman.
While some of the stories didn’t work for me, others were captivating from start to end. One of my favorites was “Prince Hat Underground,” in which a gay couple is torn apart by a mysterious ageless woman. Gary goes searching for his beloved Prince Hat, traveling all the way to Hell to get him back. Despite the secrets Prince Hat has always kept, this story exemplifies love persevering through even the toughest of situations.
Another standout is “The Lady and the Fox.” Over a series of white Christmases, an orphaned girl keeps seeing a mysterious man standing out in the snow. Is he a ghost? What are these strange rules that prevent him from going inside or from being seen on days that aren’t snowy? This story, too, showcases how love and determination can break a curse and free a prisoner.
The last story, “Skinder’s Veil,” is also great, if deeply strange. Andy has writers block as he tries to finish his dissertation. He gets an unusual opportunity to housesit a home in Vermont, and he thinks the solitude will help him finally finish his writing. But Andy encounters a revolving door of strange visitors, some talkative storytellers, some animals that shouldn’t even know how to ring a doorbell. This one includes many shorter stories within the larger narrative, and though it’s a fever dream overall (partially thanks to the drugs our protagonist keeps taking), it’s also mesmerizing until its end.
White Cat, Black Dog sits comfortably in the realm of strangeness and charm, and while it has its ups and downs across the stories, it’s an intriguing collection. If you’re familiar with the original stories, that will likely add to the enjoyment of these inspired reimaginings.
Get the Book
You can buy White Cat, Black Dog here – it’s available as a hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.
|White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link|
|Genre||Short Stories; Speculative Fiction; Literary Fiction|
|Setting||United States; Iceland; England; Hell|
|Number of Pages||272|
|Format I Read||ebook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||March 28, 2023|
Seven ingeniously reinvented fairy tales that play out with astonishing consequences in the modern world, from one of today’s finest short story writers—MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow Kelly Link, bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Get in Trouble
Featuring illustrations by award-winning artist Shaun Tan
Finding seeds of inspiration in the Brothers Grimm, seventeenth-century French lore, and Scottish ballads, Kelly Link spins classic fairy tales into utterly original stories of seekers—characters on the hunt for love, connection, revenge, or their own sense of purpose.
In “The White Cat’s Divorce,” an aging billionaire sends his three sons on a series of absurd goose chases to decide which child will become his heir. In “The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear,” a professor with a delicate health condition becomes stranded for days in an airport hotel after a conference, desperate to get home to her wife and young daughter, and in acute danger of being late for an appointment that cannot be missed. In “Skinder’s Veil,” a young man agrees to take over a remote house-sitting gig for a friend. But what should be a chance to focus on his long-avoided dissertation instead becomes a wildly unexpected journey, as the house seems to be a portal for otherworldly travelers—or perhaps a door into his own mysterious psyche.
Twisting and turning in astonishing ways, expertly blending realism and the speculative, witty, empathetic, and never predictable—these stories remind us once again of why Kelly Link is incomparable in the realm of short fiction.
About the Author
Credit: Adrianne Mathiowetz
Kelly Link is the author of the collections Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters, and Get in Trouble. Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow and has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She and Gavin J. Grant have co-edited a number of anthologies, including multiple volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and, for young adults, Steampunk! and Monstrous Affections. She is the co-founder of Small Beer Press and co-edits the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.
Link was born in Miami, Florida. She currently lives with her husband and daughter, dog, and chickens in Northampton, Massachusetts.
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