Few stories in the new collection can truly be said to reinterpret existing tales ... What the narrator gives with one hand...she takes away with the other ... But the reader remains distracted and amused—by puns and metafictional flourishes and talking snakes and literary allusions that make us feel clever, and, most of all, by the snug security blanket of genre convention. We think we’re reading a fairy tale, so the seeker will find the object of his quest; we think we’re reading a character portrait, which means that the subject will, in the end, be known ... The question of where a story should begin and end is one that recurs throughout White Cat, Black Dog, and is part of what gives the stories a melancholy air of flux and fragility.
A new collection of Kelly Link short stories...is always cause for both celebration and anxiety: Few and far between are the authors whose stories knife you in the ribs so smoothly and expertly that you’re left admiring the workmanship of the handle. Those in White Cat, Black Dog are no exception ... Though each of the seven stories in this collection is subtitled with a classic fairy tale or ballad, they are not straightforward retellings or reworkings; rather, Link treats them as ingredients from which to build a delicate, threatening feast. These stories have the sticky, tensile strength of spider silk, building webs that draw as much attention to the twigs from which they’re suspended as they do to the dew shimmering on the threads and to the creatures caught and trembling in them.
A set of seven slipstream short stories that edge, in length, toward novelettes. Where her earlier collections were anchored by a zany, wondrous youthfulness...this one seems to convey: Never fear, aging has entertaining horrors all its own ... Bizarrely fractured ... Link’s permutations retain palpable atmospheric similarities to their originals, marked by the same flatness of character and affect that characterize traditional fairy tales, as well as similarly bloody plots. Link intensifies her versions by making the stories wilder and setting them in mundane, contemporary situations ... Link leans on a signature technique she employs in other collections, too ... The atmosphere of these stories is uneasy, much like aging.
Glorious ... One of America’s most inventive, evocative writers ... Link’s affinity for fairy tales is partly thematic—her work is full of such magical motifs as talking animals and bizarre quests—but also stylistic. She does not explain herself. She writes about impossible things with serene, declarative sentences that brook no argument ... Link’s fiction can be funny, but it never strains to be. At its core is the tranquil authority of time-polished lore ... The stories in White Cat, Black Dog are tales about this kind of fairy, the ghosts of our past and of our future—a reminder, like the billionaire’s sons, of the limits on our time in the sun. Their melancholy is potent, but that only makes them more beautiful.
It’s a stunning collection, filled with her signature wit and charmingly bizarre sensibility ... And that’s what’s magical about these stories. Link has a boundless imagination and a sharp sense of humor, but even in tales filled with vampires, monsters, and a menagerie of talking animals, she never forgets the humanity of her characters, even when she puts them through their paces. She’s no sentimentalist, to be sure, but she writes with a seemingly limitless compassion, which anchors the stories in something enduring, something more real than real. This is a beautiful collection, full of Link’s hypnotic prose and flights of fancy that never come close to approaching twee self-indulgence. There are, of course, other authors adept at blending the real and the unreal, but there may well be no one who does it as impressively as Link.
There’s something about starting out on the adventure of a new book by Kelly Link that feels like breathing out. This feeling doesn’t come from entering into some form of escapism but more from a release of tension and a willing of myself into the space and place she creates with her mastery of the written form ... Link’s new collection contains stories that demand rereading with so many layers of meaning they move from brain into blood and bone and back again in a cyclical process ... Over almost three hundred pages, Link presents seven stories full of life and love, magic and death, and does it in sparkling prose ... Contemporary ... Disorienting ... This is a truly well-wrought and magical work, rather than simple updates of fairy tales or fables, these stories have a chilling core and deep observations on modern life that we can all learn from.
Ms. Link writes with a deadpan sense of humor and she loves winking meta jokes (two characters brunch at a posh restaurant called Folklore), but her project is not deconstructive: In the end she still embarks on traditional hero quests. Those quests are usually undertaken in pursuit of true love and require some kind of face-off with death, even when death is accompanied by a cute black lapdog ... A degree of opacity is normal in Ms. Link’s stories and part of their charm. C.S. Lewis wrote that he began his fantasies with a series of images and my guess is that Ms. Link does the same. But unlike Lewis, she does not then shape a coherent allegory around them. There is an essential lightness to these stories; their sparkling strangeness is often the point. If Ms. Link has a recurring theme it is separation, from family or loved ones or, in the outstanding final story 'Skinder’s Veil,' from an aspect of oneself. The journey is toward completeness, in a way that will mirror this collection’s odd-couple marriage of the real and the magical.
Throughout, what’s notable is Link’s particular, tightly enmeshed blend of weird fabulism and contemporary realism, and the deliciously absurd and oddly moving combinations this blend sparks ... What continues to set Link apart from those fabulist peers may be just how far off-path she is willing to go. Any given fairy tale is a blurry form made up of overlapping variants, but Link’s retellings often proceed with gleeful infidelity to their inspirations ... What I can tell you is that they reward multiple readings. Also, there is a cat (or cat joke) in most. And they are unstinting evidence (if we needed more) that the fairy-tale resurgence Link has helped to shepherd remains robust, tenacious, here.