Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell

I think I said this in my review for Karen Russell’s first collection of stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves, and it applies to her new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, as well”: Russell, who possess an amazing creativity and imagination, has ideas that are simply to big for the short story form. They are very high concept and breathtaking in how inventive they are, but they just leave me wanting to see these ideas pasted on a bigger canvas. With stories like “Reeling for the Empire” about kidnapped women who are turned into silkworms, and “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating”, about boat racing in the Antarctic, just beg to be turned into novels. Not only are they great ideas, but to really grab your attention, we need to exist for a while within these finely constructed rules to fully understand them. The stories Russell writes are merely set-ups to something we’d rather be reading. But having said that, this collection does have some of her best stories to date. Like the title story, about a vampire couple living in an Italian lemon grove who survive on the lemons grown there that is a heartbreaking fable of love winding down. “The Barn at the End of Our Term”, about the souls of presidents being transported to the bodies of farm animals on this particular farm, is actually pretty funny and not as stupid as it sounds. The gem of this collection has to be the final story, “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis”, where a quartet of inner city kids find a doll that resembles a kid they bullied mercilessly. With echoes of the underrated TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow, it is harrowing tale of guilt and redemption. Russell is one of our most talented writers, and if when she finds a balance between the short story and the novel, she will be unstoppable.
Rating: 4/5

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