"From the Pulitzer finalist and universally beloved author of the New York Times best sellers Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, a stunning new collection of short fiction that showcases her extraordinary gifts of language and imagination"--
This is a strong work. Eight stories, all but one I liked, the first, The Prospector my favorite. There is humor, horror, unbelievable happenings accepted as normal. They are strange, but always recognizable, the emotion true. In short, very unexpected, different, and executed well.
"Look," he says dreamily, and points to where the moon is rising, bright and enormous as the door to another Galaxy, on the opposite side of the bay."
ARc from Edelweiss.
The Prospectors - A ghost story of loss, love, and moving on, one of my favorites from the collection.
The Bad Graft - A bizarre scifi horror story about Joshua trees.
Bog Girl: A Romance - A young boy unearths a bog girl while cutting peat. A love affair ensues. Yes, it seems that weird.
Madame Bovary's Greyhound - This exactly what it is, a short story about Madame Bovary's Greyhound. Having never read Madame Bovary (no shaming!), I'm not familiar with how the Greyhound's story plays out there, but this story seemed to be touched with a flavor of The Call of the Wild. I don't know that the ending of this story would hit as hard if the reader did not own a dog of their own.
The Tornado Auction - Tornadoes are grown at farms and one farmer deals with the mistakes of his life.
Black Corfu - A posthumous surgeon, who cuts the hamstrings of the deceased to keep them from rising from their graves is accused of making a mistake and not performing a surgery properly. As a result, the doctor must deal with the rumors that surround this error, which possibly cause him to go insane. Not my favorite of the collection.
The Gondoliers - Young mutant girls ferry passengers thru a dystopian flooded future Florida.
Orange World - A new mother makes a deal with a devil to keep her baby safe. Clearly an allegory of the fear all mothers must have about the safety of their baby.
The first four stories are the strongest for me. The Tornado Auction was an interesting idea, but didn't quite have the same punch as the first four. The final three stories are the weakest for me, especially Black Corfu. That one really didn't work at all for me. Overall, a solid collection, and even I can attest that the stories that were not to my liking are still written well. I'll be interested to read more of Karen Russell in the future.
You do sense a connection between some of these stories, a connection that links people planet-wide, our changing planet, our common crisis of the environment. Other connections are humor, magic, the surreal and spooky, and one I would call I-wish-I-had-come-up-with-that. She is such a superb storyteller. She must love to think what her writing does to the minds of her readers. Blowing someone’s mind is a phrase that has faded in our modern culture, but many of us are junkies for having that feeling, of seeing things from a new viewpoint that may just challenge your everyday thoughts. The New York Times said, “Her writing is particular and alive. Her imagination spills over the sink and hits the backsplash.”
“Bog Girl” is a story that reached out and grabbed me, even before the two-thousand-year-old girl who is dug up from the ancient bog is walking and staggering around. With tender loving care, a boy had unearthed her body, treasured her, and eventually carried her to his school in a sling. Later on, you realize he doesn’t want her to get too much attention, or to ask too much from him, even though their communications are very limited. The story was a most curious combination of archeology, love, and expectations.
Another story begins when two young lovers, Andy and Angie, struck out on their own, after ditching their jobs in Pennsylvania, and find their way to the California desert. The adventure is going along fine, until the story’s title, “The Bad Graft,” shows how apt it is. It all changes when the soul of a Joshua tree gets into Angie and takes possession of her. This metaphysical horror story is uncomfortably frightful, but so very intriguing—you cannot look away. The girl’s temperament changes and evolves, until their happy relationship starts showing some serious cracks. Your mind may be wondering what the hell is going on, but you also see that it’s still about two people in love getting along—though one of them has been possessed by a succulent. Hell, that happens all the time.
The last, and title story, “Orange World,” is another story that takes the reader to a new place. Rae is an expectant mother who’s suffering great pain and worries that her pregnancy is threatened. The answer to her problem is that she’ll make a deal with the devil. Whatever could go wrong there? All she has to do is breastfeed Satan. Later she wonders if she entered into this pact with the devil too quickly, maybe there were other options. To quote the book, “She took the first deal offered. She’s done a better job negotiating for the Subaru.” The story is a fascinating look at motherhood and commitment, and is very funny.
Two of my other favorites are, “The Prospectors,” about two women partying with a band of dead men in a mountaintop lodge, and “The Gondoliers,” about the highly evolved women poling their boats around the troubled waters of New Florida. I could just as easily include all the remaining stories here, but I must be going.
The Boston Globe said of Russell, “Her descriptions are twenty-first century Dickensian genius.” I find her stories most addictive. Many other short story writers are very creative and clever, but Russell has an alertness, a humor, and a slyly inventive taste to her work. I hope she enjoys writing them, as much as I do reading them.