Author: Karen Russell
Published: February 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf
Length: 243 pages
Genre: fiction, short stories
Source: Own it, Hardback
My rating: 2 1/2 Stars. Follow the link for an explanation of my star ratings.
From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best.
A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest. A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.
I read this book as a part of the Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon in April. Reading short stories during a readathon is a solid choice. It’s a good way to break up things and me feel like I’m making progress reading. And I’ve noticed lately that a lot of short story collections are being published at this time. I think the idea is that people don’t have the time or attention span to read full length novels, but they have time or attention span to read short stories. At least that is why I think there are so many short story collections being published lately.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is an older collection that I have had for about 4 years. I read Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia! and I like it, so I thought I would give this collection a try. Well, it stayed on the TBR for a while. But in January I decided to use it as a part of the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge. Because I am so behind on my BRRHC, I decided to read it during the readathon, hoping that it would just be the best. But like most short story collections some of the stories are better than others. In fact, I either really like a story or I hate it in this collection. And there are more hates than likes, and that’s why only 2 1/2 stars.
What I did like:
The theme of this collection is monsters: who is the monster, why they are monsters, and how to move away from being the monster. My favorite story is “Reeling for the Empire.” Girls are taken by a sinister factory manager and turned into silk moths. The horror of the girls at being turned into these creatures is heartbreaking. Russell does a good job of making the reader feel for these young women’s plight. And this sympathy makes the ending satisfying. The other story I quite like is “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.” This story is about a group of boys bullying Eric Mutis. He is a pathetic boy who just is horribly abused by the other boys. He disappears from school. Why is never really explained. But soon after a large scarecrow like doll who resembles Eric shows up in the bullies favorite hangout. One of the boys seems to be most affected by the doll, and his relationship with Eric is revealed. The way that Russell describes the abuse is heartbreaking, especially if you or someone you know have ever been the target of bullies. In fact it’s one of those stories that kids in middle school should read, but the kids who most need this story will probably not read it and get it.
What I didn’t like:
Sadly, the other stories in this collection don’t quite meet the the same standard as the two I mention above. The story lines just are too far fetched or weird to really allow me to make the emotional connection, or the characters are flat and uninteresting. And one of the stories is just truly awful. “The Barn at the End of Our Term” should be amusing…..but it’s not. In this one a few of the former presidents of the USA are reincarnated as horses living in a barn. Maybe it’s because of the current mess in Washington, but I just have no patience with political stories right now. Maybe in a few years I could read this and enjoy the humor and the fate of certain presidents, but today is not that day.
Would I recommend this book for other readers:
Yes, but borrow from the library or a friend and read to the end only the stories that you enjoy. If you find yourself not enjoying it, stop immediately and move onto the next one in the book. Don’t waste your time trying to find a reason to keep reading it. There are too many books out there that are waiting for you to read and enjoy.
Have you read Vampires in the Lemon Grove? Or Swamplandia? Or any other books by Karen Russell? What did you think? Can you recommend other books of hers for me to read? If so, leave a comment below.
And if you would like to read another review, here is a link to The Girls.