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Book evaluation: Kelly Link’s “White Cat, Black Dog”


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Kelly Link is something of a narrative sorceress. The 2018 MacArthur fellow declines guidelines, overturns conventions, and in so doing, provides unforeseeable experience. “White Cat, Black Dog,” her 5th collection, is a set of 7 slipstream narratives that edge, in length, towards novelettes. Where her earlier collections were anchored by a zany, marvelous youthfulness (in addition to vampires, faeries, and other fantastical category staples), this one appears to communicate: Never worry, aging has amusing scaries all its own.

Many of these bizarrely fractured fairy tales are based upon odd ones most likely familiar just to enthusiasts of illustrator Arthur Rackham’s 19th-century color-based fairy tale collections, such as “The Blue Fairy Book.” Yet Link’s permutations do maintain palpable climatic resemblances to their originals, marked by the very same flatness of character and impact that identify standard fairy tales, and likewise bloody plots. Link magnifies her variations by making the stories wilder and setting them in ordinary, modern circumstances.

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Book evaluation: Kelly Link’s wonderful, fantastical ‘Get in Trouble’

Weird journeys, frequently including scary buddies, repeat throughout the collection. The initially story, “The White Cat’s Divorce” is a mission story based upon Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy’s French fairy tale, “The White Cat,” about a king who tasks his 3 kids with discovering the tiniest and most lovely dog to sidetrack them from pursuing his throne. In d’Aulnoy’s story, the youngest discovers himself in a land of talking cats, ruled by a white cat who offers him an acorn to reclaim to the king. When the prince returns home, he breaks the acorn available to discover, unbelievably, a magic, the tiniest and most lovely dog — however the king then sends him on another legendary journey. It ultimately solves in a triple wedding event. In Link’s variation, the property is comparable: An abundant man worries getting old and sees in his kids “the proof of his own mortality.” But when the youngest boy sets out, he does so in a roadster with a copy of Kerouac and dog deals with, winding his method through a landscape of pot farms and airport security, up until the story is darkened by violent betrayal.

The 2nd story starts when one half of a gay couple, Prince Hat, vanishes with a lady, obviously an enthusiast from his past. When Prince Hat’s partner, Gary, cannot find him, a bartender recommends that possibly Prince Hat has actually gone to hell, as he’d just come near this world to gallivant and “see night become day become night again.” When Gary goes out to discover him, the story grows prohibiting and a little kinky.

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“The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear,” about a lesbian female on a flight home, deviates when a lady on the airplane errors her for her partner, who had actually slept around several years prior to. Lest we envision this will be a practical narrative about sensual jealousy, the discussions take a strange, metaphoric turn when another traveler delicately goes over the sighting of ghosts.

The last story, “Skinder’s Veilis the most overtly enormous, and it’s likewise among the best departures from its motivation, “Snow-White and Rose-Red” by the Brothers Grimm. A boy needs to follow odd, detailed guidelines while housesitting, keeping mindful track of which visitors are permitted to go into which entryways. Our hero is pestered by oddballs wishing to talk, however it’s just after years pass that the elliptical secret of the house owner ends up being clear.

Link leans on a signature strategy she uses in other collections, too, like “Get in Trouble” and “Magic for Beginners”: the positioning of modern, specific niche items inside plot structures that come from fairy tales, such that an off-kilter, extremely particular present is constantly in discussion with the lurid antique. A prince pulled into an Underworld sleeps on a blood-bed, not a water bed. A house caretaker must consider a set of crones — or are they maidens?

The environment of these stories is anxious, similar to the act of aging — you feel young, and yet your body betrays a various reality. Like William Ely Hill’s “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law,” the popular visual fallacy including the very same set in a single image, the gestalt shifts and makes it difficult to decide on what, exactly, remains in front of you.

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Anita Felicelli is the author of the unique “Chimerica” and the short-story collection “Love Songs for a Lost Continent.”

Random House. 260 pp. $27.

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