Thursday, September 12, 2019

The White Cat's Divorce, by Kelly Link

★★★★☆ Gently humorous but with a bite

(Modern Fairy Tale) A wealthy man sends his three sons on a quest to find him the perfect dog, although he really just wants them out of the house. (9,664 words; Time: 32m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘RHorton.r+1 (Q&A)

Not Hugo eligible because it originally appeared in the catalog for the Weatherspoon Art Museum’s 2018 exhibit "Dread & Delight: Fairy Tales in an Anxious World"

"The White Cat's Divorce," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 09-10|19, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.513 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: A very modern fairy tale with a very traditional structure. The three sons go on three quests. The faithless rich man fails to appreciate their gifts and reneges on his promises every time. His last act of betrayal costs him his sons and, eventually, his life.

There’s plenty of gentle humor here. Favorite line:
He did not feel as if the rich man had stolen the love of his life. But he did feel as if his father had stolen his cat.
The conclusion, of course, is far from humorous, but, hey, this is a fairy tale.

Con: The ending—after the decapitation—is a bit of a letdown. What ever happened to all those dogs? And who did inherit all the money?

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Kelly Link Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I'm a great admirer of Link's fiction, and I really enjoyed this most of the way through... but the end of this story didn't work for me at all, in that it doesn't really make any sense.

    We learn through the story that what the rich man really fears, possibly more than death, is growing old and losing control. So what does the white cat give him? Years of immensely satisfying sex, followed by a quick and relatively painless death that he doesn't even think will be the end of him. (And at this point he must be into his seventies.) Sure, prior to that he's lost all of his sons, but so what? He doesn't care about them anyway, so it hardly counts as a punishment. Meanwhile, the white cat has assured the youngest son that everything will work out for the best, and tells him that he doesn't know what he wants, but in the end her actions deprive him of the one thing that we know he does want: the company of the white cat. I don't see how you can read the ending of the story as other than the white cat abandoning the youngest son for his awful father.

  2. I thought it was clear that the story had a secret ghost story folded into it? Which is a very Kelly Link thing to do. Everything made sense to me from that perspective...

    The details of the rich man's first wife (and how she died) seemed super important to me. That very cruel detail, of how the rich man not only stripped total custody from his first wife -- even though he doesn't even like his sons! He did it just because he could! But then also sending her home to her own horrifying decapitation... It's a deliberate mirror of what's to come in the story, and gives the clue to the story's secrets.

    It is ambiguous as to what the White Cat really is. Is she the ghost of the first wife, or Death, or Revenge, or a spirit of ironic justice; or something that combines all four things, and is also other things as well? What is undeniable is that the White Cat "takes" the youngest son back from the rich man -- whether or not she is a shade of his mother, she wins his affection and trust fully. And then, through him, she's able to win the trust of the rich man too, which may have been her goal all along. She sweetly guides the rich man into leaping happily into his own death: the very thing he's spent his *entire* life and fortune trying to avoid, and here she gets him to ask for it willingly. And he begs for (and receives) the *exact* sort of death which fell to the first wife who he abandoned so cruelly.

    I suspect everything that the White Cat says to any character in the story. By which I mean: she doesn't tell the truth. She says what she needs to say, to accomplish her particular goals, and we trust her because we're used to trusting these types of figures in fairy tales. Yet unlike most enchanted animal guides in fairy tales, she very much had her own agenda all along, and it wasn't what we thought it was. Her origin and her exact goals are enigmatic and ambiguous, and so her reasons for doing things exactly how she did them are enigmatic as well. But I enjoyed that feeling of creeping enigma, which felt right for both a fairy tale and for a ghost story. And I think "The White Cat's Divorce" is both.