Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell. Publisher: Knopf (2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 243 pages. ISBN: 978-0-307-95723-8.
How can anyone look at the cover of this short-story collection and not be enticed to read the stories? Bright lemon yellow, bleeding red print letters and a long eared bat suspended in flight. One of my favorite covers in recent memory. Then there’s the author pedigree. Her debut novel, the clever and engaging Swamplandia! , was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She was a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin and a graduate of the Columbia MFA program. Author Karen Russell’s quite a wunderkind. It turns out that she’s witty and remarkable and deserving of the grants and the prize consideration. She’s a superbly talented writer who creates unimaginable worlds that are intensely real.
“When these memories send the fierce regret spiraling through me, I focus on my heartbeat, my throbbing palms. Fibers stiffen inside my fingers. Grow strong, I direct the thread. Go black. Lengthen. Stick. And then, when I return to the vats, what I’ve produced is exactly the necessary denier and darkness . . . Out of the same intuition, I discover that I know how to alter the Machine.” –from “Reeling for the Empire”
This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.
In the title story “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” vampires hang out in an Italian lemon grove in an attempt to thwart their blood thirst by sucking on lemons. Russell turns all the myths about vampires upside down in a slyly amusing and sad manner. “Reeling for the Empire” is a creepy story about women who’ve been forced to serve their country by drinking a special tea that turns them into human silk worms. A veteran’s tattoo exudes its karmic energy in “The New Veterans.” There’s the hysterical “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” with Team Krill versus Team Whale. Youthful cruelty haunts “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Knopf.