I don’t generally read short stories. It’s not that they don’t represent a genre full of potential for incredible writing, because I’ve read some great short stories. But I fully dive into the books I am reading, which means I get caught up in the emotions and lives of the characters. It’s just too emotionally trying to get invested in so many lives in such a short time. Plus the dramatic arc of most books are truncated in short stories, so the pacing feels too fast. You can get whiplash reading a collection of short stories too fast. But the descriptions of some of the stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove left me wanting to know more, so I went ahead and picked up the book.
My overall impression is, “Boy, does Karen Russell knows how to write!” Every story was well put together and generally a joy to read. And there is something for everyone, though they all have an element of the supernatural, which is why I picked it up for October. Each story has a hook that will likely draw you in (though I had trouble getting into a few of them). With that being said, what I hated was getting hooked, only to be dropped within a few pages. So goes my big problem with any short story collection: I can’t take the ups and downs. But, there were some great stories in the mix, and I would recommend grabbing it and reading a story here and there. Definitely don’t power through the whole thing in a few days like I did (I was rushing through because someone had requested it after me at the library). Here’s a breakdown of the stories:
- Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Two vampires hunt for what will actually quench their thirst. This is both the title story and what got me to pick up the book. I was waist-deep in ‘Salem’s Lot and looked for another Halloween-themed book to read that wasn’t another classic horror story. What I loved about this story was its reflections on the power of the mind.
- Reeling for the Empire – Young women are conscripted to spin silk from their bellies. A retelling of women and children laborers fighting for their rights. It’s a unique retelling that had the right touch of the macabre.
- The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach – A teenaged boy theorizes that a strange flock of seagulls that has overrun his town are stealing bits of the future – and the past – that can change the course of time. This took a while to get into but it was definitely good as the intriguing discoveries in the seagulls’ nest began to hold meaning.
- Proving Up – A windowpane is key to homesteaders claims to their homes. This one, strangely, reminded me of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, though I’m not sure why. This was my least favorite one.
- Dougbert Shakleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating – This was a completely preposterous premise that somehow was the most enjoyable short story to read. The voice was genuine and hilarious, and it was a joyful surprise snuck in among the more novel-like fare.
- The New Veterans – A masseuse holds the power to remove disturbing memories from her patient, a tormented veteran. But is she prepared for the consequences? What I think was interesting about this whole collection is Russell’s ability to completely embody and become a subject expert about so many walks of life. I love how Russell, through the masseuse describes her skills:
“Beverly felt that she was learning a second language. As a child she’s been excruciatingly shy, stiffening in even her parent’s embraces, but suddenly she had a whole choreography of movements and touched people with a purpose. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, a body might confide to her. Spasming and relaxing. Pain unwound itself under her palms, and this put wonderful pictures in head: a charmed snake sinking back into its basket, a noose shaking out its knots.” (p. 151).
- The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis – A strange story of a highschooler who discovers a scare-a-crow that resembles a boy his gang had bullied and who had mysteriously left town without telling anyone. Through flashbacks, their shared history is revealed.