White Cat, Black Dog

Stories

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • “The Brothers Grimm meet Black Mirror meets Alice in Wonderland. . . . In seven remixed fairy tales, Link delivers wit and dreamlike intrigue.”—Time
 
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize • “Thought-provoking and wonderfully told . . . so seamlessly entwines the real with the surreal that the stories threaten to slip into reality, resonating long after reading.”—BuzzFeed
 
A new collection 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

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Kirkus Reviews

Finding seeds of inspiration in the stories of 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.
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Praise for White Cat, Black Dog

“Kelly Link is the master of the modern fairy tale.”Today

White Cat, Black Dog [is] the perfect opportunity to get to know one of America’s most inventive, evocative writers.”Slate

“Kelly Link is something of a short story sorceress.”—The Washington Post

“To read Link is to place oneself in the hands of an expert illusionist, entering a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems.”The New Yorker

“As intense, absorbing and weird as the best dreams.”—The Guardian

“[Stories of] sparkling strangeness.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Kelly Link . . . masterfully twists familiar source material into unexpected, new shapes. . . . She beckons us into her gingerbread house in the cul-de-sac suburbs, hoping to entangle and provoke us. . . . For Link, modern literature can never outgrow the resilience and resonance of the fairy tale. And even if it could, what fun would that be?”The Atlantic

“Kelly Link secures her crown as queen of the literary fairy tale. . . . Again and again, Link applies her fairy tales like a nutcracker to our contemporary archetypes, breaking them open and making us shiver with mingled horror and delight at the tiny and unsettling wonders she finds within.”Vox

“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.”—The Boston Globe

“Like magic, narrative rearranges the world through words, and Kelly Link is one of modern fiction’s boldest alchemists.”—Electric Lit

White Cat, Black Dog marks a glittering new height in the literature of the weird.”The Spectator (UK)

“Fans of Station Eleven, speculative fiction or simply anyone who needs a brief escape from the hard, cold world will find the prose here magically transporting.”Salon

“Link is a genius. . . . [This book is] pure modern folklore—eccentric, taut and tapped into the collective subconscious.”—Los Angeles Times

“The maestro fantasist of short fiction brings us more mystical stories—of animals, human and not, and the unattainable desires that make up all our lives.”Bustle

“This is extra-strength Link: funny, bizarre and wild, but never reckless.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Kelly Link’s stories are spooky and funny, grounded, and floating, and, as always, completely her own. There is no mistaking a story by Kelly Link. This book is sublime.”—Emma Straub, author of This Time Tomorrow

“These are big stories, tales you dive into, live inside, and come out the other end changed.”—Victor LaValle, author of Lone Women
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Excerpt

White Cat, Black Dog

The White Cat’s Divorce


(The White Cat)



All stories about divorce must begin some other place, and so let us begin with a man so very rich, he might reach out and have almost any thing he desired, as well as many things that he did not. He had so many houses even his accountants could not keep track of them all. He had private planes and newspapers and politicians who saw to it that his wishes became laws. He had orchards, islands, baseball teams, and even a team of entomologists whose mandate was to find new species of beetles to be given variations on the rich man’s name. (For if it was true that God loved beetles, was it not true He loved the rich man even more? Was his good fortune not the proof of this?)

The rich man had all of this and more than I have space to write. Anything you have ever possessed, know that he had this, too. And if he did not, he could have paid you whatever your price was in order to obtain it.

All men desire to be rich; no man desires to grow old. To stave off old age, the rich man paid for personal trainers and knee replacements and cosmetic procedures that meant he always had a somewhat wide-eyed look, as if he were not a man in his seventies at all but rather still an infant who found his life a cascade of marvelous and surprising events. The rich man had follicular unit transplantation and special creams to bleach age spots. For dinner, his personal chefs served him fish and berries and walnuts as if he were a bear and not a rich man at all. Every morning, he swam two miles in a lake that was kept by an ingenious mechanism at a comfortable temperature for him throughout the year. In the afternoons, he had blood transfusions from adolescent donors, these transfusions being a condition of the scholarships to various universities that the rich man funded. In the evenings, he threw lavish parties, surrounding himself with people who were young and beautiful. As he grew older, his wives grew younger, and in this way, for a time, the rich man was able to persuade himself that he, too, was still young and might remain so forever.

But although a man may acquire younger and ever more beautiful wives who will maintain the pretense that he, too, is still untouched by age, this rich man had, a long time ago, been married to a first wife, and this first wife had had three sons. The three sons, having been raised with every advantage by caregivers and tutors and therapists and life coaches paid to adhere to the best principles of child-rearing, were attractive, personable, and in every way the kind of children that a father could have regarded with satisfaction. And yet the rich man did not regard them with satisfaction. Instead, when he looked at his three sons, the youngest of whom was now nineteen, he saw only the proof of his own mortality. It is difficult to remain young when one’s children selfishly insist upon growing older.

To make matters worse, his sons were all in residence at the house where the rich man was spending the winter. The eldest was in the middle of an acrimonious divorce (his first) and the second was hiding out from the media, while the third had no good reason at all, except that he truly loved his father and wished for his approval. (Also, he had flunked out of university.) Everywhere the rich man turned, a son was underfoot.

At night, he began to be visited by a certain dream. In this dream, the rich man was troubled first by the notion that he had a fourth child. And in the dream, no sooner had he had this notion than he became aware that this fourth child, too, was a guest in the house, and although in the morning the rich man found he could never remember what this child looked like—Was it small or tall? Was it long and slender or so enormous it blotted out its surroundings? What was the sound of its voice?—he knew this last child was Death. In the dream, the rich man offered his child Death all he had in return for more life, but nothing the rich man had to offer was of interest to Death. The only thing Death desired was the company of its father.

Sometimes the rich man had this dream three or four times in one night. By day, he began to detest the sight of his sons.

At last, in perplexity, the rich man turned to consultants to assist him with the problem of his sons, and by the end of the week, a most elegant plan had been put in place. The rich man, in accordance, summoned his three sons to his side. Once he had embraced them lovingly and they had discussed the news of the day and the foundations and boards of which his sons were nominally the heads, he said, “My sons: although it is true that I am in my prime, and although I know it pains you to contemplate, a day must come when I retire into private life and take up a hobby like growing orchids or hunting the most dangerous game or sending unmanned vessels into the sun to see what happens, and, although it is farther off still, yet it is ever drawing nearer, a day in which an expert team will cryogenically freeze my body as well as the body of my current wife until such a time when medical advances can resurrect me into some unknown hellish future in a body that can satisfy more than three women at a time while also battling apocalyptic mutant lizards and conquering whatever remains of the New York Stock Exchange.”

His sons exchanged looks with each other, and the youngest said, “Dear Father, it seems impossible to us that you will ever be any less vital than you are at this moment.”

The rich man said, “Nevertheless, a time must come when all things change. And when I think of the future, there are two things I desire above all else. One is to name my heir. My second desire is for a companion to be a comfort to me in the years of my decline.”

The oldest son said, “Pardon me, Father, but are you telling us that you are to marry again?”

The rich man said, “No, no! Alyssa and I are quite happy. What I wish for is, simply, a dog. The smallest, silkiest, most obedient and amiable dog a man has ever possessed. I have decided to task you, my sons, with this errand. You will have a year and a day to scour the earth for such a dog, and at the end of that span, whichever of you procures it, I shall leave you everything that I own.”

“But, Father,” the second son said, “dogs make you sneeze. Which is why we were never allowed to keep them as pets.”

“The most amiable and hypoallergenic dog,” the rich man said firmly.

For the consultants had pointed out that if the rich man’s sons were sent far from his presence, it might seem as if they had never been born at all. Once the rich man had ruled out filicide, being possessed of a tender heart, the consultants had devised a quest: a kind of beta experiment to see if the rich man’s quality of life was improved with no sons underfoot.

The rich man’s three sons agreed in the end to do as their father asked. The oldest said, “Our father has accumulated so much money that even if he must name one of us his successor, the other two will never want for anything.”

The middle son said, “Possibly our father is suffering from dementia, but at least his request, though bizarre, is harmless.”

And the youngest said, “It isn’t as if I have anything better to do.”

The sons bid each other goodbye, agreeing that whichever one brought home the most charming dog, the other two would be good sports about the whole thing.

About the Author

Kelly Link
MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow Kelly Link is the author of the collections Get in Trouble, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. 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, Monstrous Affections. She is the co-founder of Small Beer Press. Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She has also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Link was born in Miami, Florida. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Kelly Link is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at speakers@penguinrandomhouse.com or visit www.prhspeakers.com. More by Kelly Link
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About the Author

Shaun Tan
Tundra author Shaun Tan has been illustrating young adult fiction and picture books for more than ten years. His brilliant wordless book, The Arrival, won The CBCA Picture Book of the Year, The NSW Premier’s Book of the Year, and the Community Relations Commission Award, and received a Special Mention at the 2007 Bologna Ragazzi Awards.
He lives in Australia. More by Shaun Tan
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