Tag Archives: kelly link

Short Tuesday #3: “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link

This week I read the third short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “The Specialist’s Hat.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.

Now that I’m three stories into the Kelly Link book, I’m starting to get a pretty good grasp of her style. I went into this anticipating I’d have little to no concrete answers at the end of this story, and I was right, but again I was left with that eerie, uncomfortable, awful things are happening in the background feeling that Link does so well.

One thing I did notice was the emphasis on the concrete, in particular the constant numbers throughout the text. The chandelier has “exactly 632 leaded crystals shaped like teardrops,” the house has eight chimneys, the twin main characters’ game has three rules. (A few things in the story even smell like Chanel No. 5.) And then there’s the difference between “gray” and “grey,” and “dead” and “Dead.” It feels like everything that is happening to the girls is so vague and creepy that they rely (subconsciously or otherwise) on numbers, definitions, and rules to define their slippery reality.

Overall, I can’t say I loved this story; I have the sense that it’s well-written, just not for me, or maybe not for me right now. It might have to do with the fact that I kept getting interrupted while reading, so I had to read the story in a very fractured way. In any case, I think I’m going to set down Stranger Things Happen for a week or two and try something else for next Tuesday.

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.

Short Tuesday #1: “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by Kelly Link

Well, hello, everybody. This is the first post in my brand new blog series Short Tuesday, where I’ll discuss short written works. I’m not promising to post every Tuesday, since getting posts up for every Thursday and Sunday is already a fair bit of work, but I’ll try to post one of these most weeks. Whenever legally possible, I’ll also provide a link to whatever I’m reading so you can read along. I had a lot of fun reading short story anthologies last year; the idea is for this blog series to help me read more short fiction regularly. I figure it will be nice punctuation to all the long-form novels I read.

I also don’t want to be too legalistic and make this a fiction-only space—maybe I’ll also use this blog series to occasionally discuss essays, nonfiction chapters, and articles. Perhaps I’ll even try some poetry, though, quite honestly, poetry is always the absolute last thing I ever want to read.

So! Here are a few books I’m planning to slowly make my way through. Aside from the Peterson book, there’s a pretty obvious theme: I want to read weird stuff.

As you can see, it’s quite a lot to get through! The Weird, in particular, is a tome worthy of clubbing robbers over the head with. But slow and steady wins the race.


First up in the series is Kelly Link’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” from her short story collection Stranger Things Happen. This has been on my TBR for years, ever since I heard Kelly Link might appeal to fans of Haruki Murakami. Plus I fucking love the cover—is that Nancy Drew? It has to be, right? You can read the short story here…

All right, so having now read the story, I’m not going to pretend I know exactly what’s going on. I do really like the ambiguous, shifting tone, as well as the POV switches. Doesn’t the third person narration almost seem like the man is being observed like an animal in a zoo? This in contrast to much of the first person narration, which felt very honest and sad—the MC missing a life he hardly remembers anything about.

Something I didn’t know until I looked for a little more information on the “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” online is that there is a John Singer Sargent painting by this exact name, and a beautiful one at that. I don’t see the connection myself aside from the twilight dreaminess of both works, but I appreciate the Easter egg.

The story’s tone really reminds me of another short story I read long ago in The Weird, about two people who keep finding mannequins washing up on a beach. Of course, I read that short story more than half a decade ago, so that’s really only my fuzzy impression of it. Maybe I’ll take a look at that one for next week’s Short Tuesday.

I also really liked the inclusion of the loolies! In my mind, they were some sort of pale, distant cousin of the Teletubbies. Link had an opportunity here to take this story into full-on creepsville, but I appreciate that she opted for something else instead.

In essence, this story is more about impressions than anything concrete. That could be frustrating to a lot of readers, but if you’re looking for something moody and odd, then give this one a go.