Short Tuesday #2: “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back” by Kelly Link

This week I read the second short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.

I enjoyed this short story, though I do think I connected more with last week’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” I assume that the name of the short story is tied to the idiom “like water off a duck’s back,” meaning that harsh critique doesn’t have any effect on someone, but I’m struggling to connect that idiom to the story. Perhaps something to do with the black dogs’ constant, menacing presence? Or the MC’s steadfast commitment to his clearly odd relationship?

I think the thing I liked most about this story was the penetrating feeling of dread. You can just feel that the MC, Carroll, has embroiled himself in something bad, and you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. (My, we’re all about idioms today!) This is another story built more on mood than plot; don’t expect much to make sense, but if you want to read something vaguely uncomfortable and foreboding, I’m getting the sense that Kelly Link is your author.

One thing I’m wondering having read these two Link stories thus far is whether magical realism necessitates a more passive MC. Both MCs in these stories do things, but they’re not exactly the questioning type. Strange things happen (har har), and the characters just sort of mosey along through life, taking the oddities as they come. I haven’t read much magical realism save for Murakami, so it’s hard to say for certain, but I think it’s a trend that I’m noticing.

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