Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bonus Review: Karen Russell's Short Story Anthologies

I had so much fun reviewing Karen Russell's Swamplandia! that I picked up both of her short story anthologies: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Over the weekend, I tore through them both. As long as I can spend this summer lying by the pool with good books like these, I won't complain about the heat.

Russell is climbing swiftly in the ranks of my most esteemed modern writers. She has a thoroughly unique viewpoint on both the everyday and the paranormal, one which at times even reverses the two. At the same time, her writing is so grounded in earthy and unvarnished settings that the reader never senses when their feet have left the ground. There is no need to suspend disbelief when reading her tales. Russell does it for you. It's quite the optical illusion.

Most importantly, against these surreal stages--both the ones that exist in our own world, however unfamiliar they are to the reader, and the ones that require a little loosening of the seatbelt of reality--Russell sets very simple, very true characters. They grip the reader's heart with a familiar and possessive hand.

Reading through both of these anthologies at such a fast clip, I did notice a recurring weakness when it comes to endings. Over and over, Russell seems to conclude the tale five minutes too soon, stopping on a point that feels neither cliffhangerish nor resolved. It may be intentional, but I would love to see the author follow through at least once.

Every anthology has a few duds, but Russell knocks it out of the park with so many of these tales that I recommend both books as highly as Swamplandia! itself. I look forward to her other works.

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