White Cat, Black Dog: Stories

Image of White Cat, Black Dog: Stories
Release Date: 
March 28, 2023
Random House
Reviewed by: 

White Cat, Black Dog enchants—but beware, the underlying darkness is deep and very real.”

If Angela Carter had a younger American sister, she would be Kelly Link. Like Carter, Link channels the dark heart of fairy tales. Fairy tales, of course, were never just for children, although they do operate as a swift introduction to the preoccupations of the adult world— love, hate, desire, greed, avarice, cunning, cruelty, and perhaps most importantly the finality of death.

Since they deal with the most basic human fears and desires, fairy tales can be moved to almost any time and place. Link is a master of this kind of dislocation and she is a genre-bender. Most of the stories take place in our contemporary world, one in a dystopian future (“The Game of Smash and Recovery”) and one in a world of no fixed time (“The White Road”). Link prefaces each story with the name of its origin fairy tale (or in one case a ballad). Some of the stories, like “The White Cat’s Divorce” and “Prince Hat Underground,” stick fairly closely to the original. Others, like “Skinder’s Veil,” are more of a riff on a melody.

In the old fairy tales, characters can sometimes feel generic, not so Link’s characters. The stories are often anchored by an ordinary person who finds him/herself pulled into an extraordinary, surreal world. Lost in a mountain snowstorm, a dutiful youngest son wanders into a cannabis growing operation run by cats. Faithful Gary searches for his lover the mercurial Prince Hat in a Hell that looks a lot like suburbia. Andy, a graduate student with annoying housemates jumps at the chance to house sit in Vermont, despite an odd set of rules. Miranda, over years of Christmas parties at an English country house, gets to know a young man in 18th century costume who peers in the windows. Even in the apocalyptic setting of “The White Road,” one character reminisces about a time temping in Manhattan offices and auditioning for Off- Off Broadway plays, before “the changes came upon the world”. 

Link’s prose is precise (“the low dragging hem of leaves”), and she is often very funny. Gary and his magical lover, Prince Hat, wish themselves back from Hell. Arriving nearly naked on a Long Island beach, they hitch hike into the city with a couple who have spent the last few days at a publishing conference in Montauk.

White Cat, Black Dog enchants—but beware, the underlying darkness is deep and very real.