Short Story Of the Day, I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link

It’s hard for the demon lover to grow old.

—-Kelly Link, I Can See Right Through You

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

I first read about Kelly Link and her fiction when I read that Salon had named her collection of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, a book of the year. I tracked down the paperback and read it – and it was as good as advertised. I’ve been a fan of her work – a weird melange of oddly modern adult stories told as twisted fairy tales – ever since.

I’ve linked to two of her short stories before – Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (unfortunately, no longer online) and Catskin. Buy some of her books – and visit her publishing house – especially since she offers so much that she has written and/or published under a creative commons license.

So today I’ll link to I Can See Right Through You – it starts out fragmented and jumping around and then settles down and then veers into something a little unexpected. Worth it… genius, really.

Read it here:

I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link

from McSweeney’s

Kelly Link Homepage

Small Beer Press

Kelly Link’s Twitter

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 29 – Catskin

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty-nine – Catskin, by Kelly Link

Read it online here:

Catskin

I have been a big fan of Kelly Link for most of this century after discovering a glowing review of her collection Stranger Things Happen in Salon Magazine.

She writes in a style of updated, modern fairy tales – swimming in tides of shifting reality. These are not children’s stories, however, they are unremittingly shocking, violent, and sometimes surprisingly sexually explicit.

But like all the best fairy tales and ancient folk stories they are emotionally true and tell of longing and loss that we all feel, even if we aren’t aware of it (until we read the story).

Today’s story, Catskin, is from her second collection Magic for Beginners. It is a long tale of what happens when you poison a witch (which, by the way, you should never do).

Go out right now and buy her books. And while you are looking or waiting for them to come to you in the mail, you can go and download Stranger Things Happen (and some other stuff) for your device. I love the fact that she does this – and love even more that it doesn’t seem to hurt her sales.

Now, since witches cannot have children in the usual way — their wombs are full of straw or bricks or stones, and when they give birth, they give birth to rabbits, kittens, tadpoles, houses, silk dresses, and yet even witches must have heirs, even witches wish to be mothers — the witch had acquired her children by other means: she had stolen or bought or made them.

She’d had a passion for children with a certain color of red hair. Twins she had never been able to abide (they were the wrong kind of magic) although she’d sometimes attempted to match up sets of children, as though she had been putting together a chess set, and not a family. If you were to say a witch’s chess set, instead of a witch’s family, there would be some truth in that. Perhaps this is true of other families as well.

One girl she had grown like a cyst, upon her thigh. Other children she had made out of things in her garden, or bits of trash that the cats brought her: aluminum foil with strings of chicken fat still crusted to it, broken television sets, cardboard boxes that the neighbors had thrown out. She had always been a thrifty witch.

Some of these children had run away and others had died. Some of them she had simply misplaced, or accidentally left behind on buses. It is to be hoped that these children were later adopted into good homes, or reunited with their natural parents. If you are looking for a happy ending in this story, then perhaps you should stop reading here and picture these children, these parents, their reunions.

Short Story Day Thirty-One – Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

31. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
Kelly Link
http://www.fenceportal.org/?page_id=2327

This is day Thirty-One of my Month of Short Stories – the last day – a story a day for June (and one day in July).

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose - by John Singer Sargent

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose – by John Singer Sargent

Today, for the last post of my Month of Short Stories – I present to you a story I have definitely read before. It’s been a long time, though, and I wanted you to know about this story, this book, and the writer.

I remember clearly, back then… 2002? probably… I was looking for something to read. I came across an article in Salon that listed their favorite books of the year. There, nestled in with such literary giants of our time like The Corrections, Bel Canto, and Austerlitz, was an odd looking little book of stories called Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link. The magazine raved about it.

Surfing around the web I found plenty of other folks giving it a lot of love. So I bought the thing.

And it was amazing. The stories are best described as adult fairly tales – fantastic and imaginative – passionate and very, very odd. It lived up to expectations.

So please go out and get this book. If you are cheap, it’s available for free download – as are her other works. If you download it and like it as much as I did, you will buy a copy (I think I’ve bought three over the years). She’s coming out with a hardback special limited edition later this year – but it’s a little over my price range right now.

Today’s story, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is a strange piece of fantastic fiction. A recently deceased man, stuck is some sort of odd limbo, is writing letters to his still-living wife. Unfortunately, he can’t remember her name, though he does remember a girl, Looly Bellows, that beat him up in fourth grade.

As time goes on, the scene gets stranger and stranger as his mind continues to drift further away from the mortal plane. I’m not sure if it is an accurate depiction of what happens when we die, and I don’t know if I want it to be, but it’s the sort of thing that should happen if the universe has as much of a sense of perverse humor and strange surprises in the next life as it does in this one.

Now, like all obsessions – this story led me down a long rabbit-hole. The title, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is taken from a painting by John Singer Sargent. I had to do a little research on him, and came across the famous story of Madame X.

In Paris he did a portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau, an young American woman from New Orleans. She was a rising star in Parisian High Society and her portrait caused a huge stir when it was unveiled. A huge stir of the wrong kind.

Sargent had painted her with one strap of her gown hanging down off her shoulder. This, along with her plunging neckline and powder-white skin gave the painting a sensual excitement that wasn’t acceptable at the time.

A photograph of the original painting of Madame X.

A photograph of the original painting of Madame X.

The repainted Madame X - her gown strap is back up on her shoulder.

The repainted Madame X – her gown strap is back up on her shoulder.

He re-did the painting with the strap in a more demure position – but the damage was done. Ms. Gautreau had to slink back to Louisiana to escape the social ridicule. Sargent had to flee to England to regain his reputation.

None of this has anything to do with the story – but it’s cool anyway. I’ve become a fan of Sargent because of this story, even though I’ve never been big on portraiture. I always stop and look at Dorothy whenever I visit the Dallas Museum of Art.

Dorothy, by John Singer Sargent, in the Dallas Museum of Art.

Dorothy, by John Singer Sargent, in the Dallas Museum of Art.

So, my advice is to read all of Stranger Things Happen – the other stories are just as odd, but in surprisingly different ways. Then go to the nearest good art museum and take a look at a Sargent – see what you can see in the eyes. It might be useful, help you remember things when you are stuck in limbo. We all will be there, sooner than we think.

I hope you enjoyed some of my month of short stories – it was fun and educational putting it together (though a surprising amount of work). Don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow… maybe a photograph.

Later.

I’ve been here for 3 days, and I’m trying to pretend that it’s just a vacation, like when we went to that island in that country. Santorini? Great Britain? The one with all the cliffs. The one with the hotel with the bunkbeds, and little squares of pink toilet paper, like handkerchiefs. It had seashells in the window too, didn’t it, that were transparent like bottle glass? They smelled like bleach? It was a very nice island. No trees. You said that when you died, you hoped heaven would be an island like that. And now I’m dead, and here I am.
—-Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, by Kelly Link