Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Karen Russell

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.

Review: Karen Russell is one of my favorite authors. She’s unbelievably creative, and I love how her stories come together at the ends. Usually, when I’m reading one of her short stories, I’m like, “Where is this going?” and then I suddenly get it. All of the pieces click together in an awesome way. The stories have a lot of humor and weirdness, but they also have a lot of depth. I’m rarely disappointed in them.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a collection of eight longish short stories. Like all short story collections, some of the stories are hits and others are misses for me. These are the four stories that stand out in my mind:

In “Proving Up,” a young boy confronts greed and death while he rides across the prairie to deliver a window to his neighbors.

In “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” former US presidents are not sure if they are in heaven or hell, but they do know that they have the bodies of horses.

“The New Veterans” is about a massage therapist who learns that she can alter her client’s memories by touching the tattoo that he got after he came home from war.

The final story that stands out is “The Graveless Doll of Eric Murtis.” This is my favorite in the collection. A group of school bullies discovers a scarecrow version of a boy they used to torment, but they have no idea who made the doll or why.

I like the themes of the stories in this collection. Many of the stories have to do with time, memory, and regret. If you could alter time, would you do it? If you suddenly found yourself in a vastly different body, how would you choose to live the rest of your life? Is it ethical to change a person’s sad memories to happy ones?

I didn’t like this collection as much as the author’s other collection, and I felt like a few of the stories dragged on a little too long, but if you’re a lover of magical realism, then this is a must-read. I highly recommend it.

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