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Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – January 14, 2014
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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Amazon Guest Review of “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” by Karen Russell
By Alena Graedon
Alena Graedon was born in Durham, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia MFA program. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her first novel is The Word Exchange.
The characters in this numinous, electrifying, brilliantly imaginative collection undergo monstrous and miraculous transformations. Vampires morph from old Italian grandfathers to bats to vampires again. Boys turn into mute, mutant scarecrows. Girls metamorphose into kaiko-joko: silkworm caterpillars and slaves.
As these changes take place, the line between human and inhuman can seem vanishingly faint. But there are also subtler kinds of transmutations. Bad-luck boys reinvent themselves, with the help of hair dye and rapacious birds who hoard human destinies as scraps in an old tree.
Having the chance to visit each variegated world that Russell conjures—and the sublime words she uses to describe them—is more than reason enough to read these eight very moving, often very funny stories. But the thing that makes them especially mesmerizing and powerful is how profoundly human Russell’s monsters seem.
Implanted in each of their shape-shifting bodies are very familiar things: bloodlust, hunger, superstition, devastating memories, fictions we tell ourselves to go on living. But also buried inside are secret selves, strength, love, salvational creativity. For the characters to transform, these things often have to be wrenched out of them. And these extractions can lead not just to metamorphosis but sometimes to a sort of fusion.
At its best, reading, too, is a kind of fusion. Reading these stories, I felt as if many other lives, monstrous and human, had been poured into mine. But they also stirred my own thoughts and memories, creating something new. In the process, like Russell’s characters, I felt transformed.
“Astonishing. . . . Vampires in the Lemon Grove stands out as Russell’s best book . . . with prose so alive it practically backflips off the page.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“From apparent influences as disparate as George Saunders, Saki, Stephen King, Carson McCullers and Joy Williams, [Russell] has fashioned a quirky, textured voice that is thoroughly her own: lyrical and funny, fantastical and meditative.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“One of the most innovative, inspired short-story collections in the past decade. . . . There’s absolutely no living author quite like Karen Russell.” —Michael Schaub, NPR
“Karen Russell’s imagination is once again on full, Technicolor, mind-bending display. . . . Russell’s stories will be seizing our imaginations—and nibbling at the edges of our nightmares—for years to come.” —The Miami Herald
“Hilarious, exquisite, first-rate.” —Joy Williams, The New York Times Book Review
“One of the great American writers of our young century.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR
“Darkly inventive, demonically driven.” —Elle
"No one combines the fantastical with the mundane quite like Karen Russell. . . . The stories in Vampires portray ordinary life with an otherworldly twist in a fascinating and unexpected way. And yet these haunting tales are written with such clarity and recognizable perspectives that they manage the greatest feat of all: in the surreal, we see ourselves. —Jessica Gentile, Paste Magazine, #1 Best Book of the Year
“Sea deep, scary smart, richly inventive.” —More
“Delightfully weird.” —Esquire
“A writer to track and to treasure.” —Chicago Tribune
“In another ten years Russell will be her generation’s George Saunders: the writer whose books are stolen and studied, flashed like badges, and worn to death with rereading. . . . Breathtaking.” —The Boston Globe
“One of the most remarkable fantasists writing today.” —Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post
“Witty, and wise, and brimming with vitality. . . . In Russell’s stories, malice strolls with morality, horror tangos with humor, and the spirits of Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor meet with unexpected comity. . . . With a voice that could spring from an unleashed demon—or an angel on amphetamines—Russell fills this exuberant collection with life’s radiance and shadows.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Consistently arresting . . . startling . . . profound. . . . Even more impressive than Russell’s critically acclaimed novel.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Dazzlingly strange. . . . Vacillating between horror and humor, Russell’s writing recalls both George Saunders and vintage Stephen King, sometimes simultaneously.”—Time Out Chicago
“A darkly surreal treat.” —Wired.com
“Eight new cages of horror and heart and winding metamorphoses that would take a normal writer a lifetime to dream into being.” —Interview magazine
“Bone-chilling … fantasy and horror underlined with social commentary.” —People
“As Russell’s imagination soars, so does our joy in reading this collection.” —Oprah.com
“Wildly inventive. . . . Wondrously strange and moving.” —Reader’s Digest
“In these stories, familiar human emotions leap into relief against backdrops of almost Tim Burton-like weirdness. . . . [Russell’s] stories are as robust as can be.” —New York magazine
“Karen Russell’s stories defy definition. They are at once warm and sinister, a bubble bath with a shark fin lurking underneath the suds.” —The Millions
“Clever as hell.” —BookRiot
“Wildly imaginative. . . . Gorgeous. . . . Russell has once again mapped the dark country between our everyday and more primal selves.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A master of magical realism.” —New York Observer
“Powerful. . . . Russell pulls the rug out on our imagination, creating perplexing, surreal scenarios that bump into the common reality that most of us take for granted.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Wondrously strange and moving.” —Reader’s Digest
“Nearly flawless . . . . Russell’s best work manages to both create a fascinating, surreal world and coax meaning out of it.” —The Onion’s A.V. Club
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Another favorite was "Reeling for the Empire," which takes place in a quasi-futuristic Japan where certain girls are chosen to work in a remote factory to produce silk, having acquired the ability by imbibing a special tea prepared for them by a man known as the Agent. Of the eight stories, I liked them all, but the title story was probably my least favorite. Still a good read and well written, though. Karen Russell certainly proves herself to be a versatile and gifted writer. I'm intrigued about her earlier work, i.e. "Swamplandia," and might give that a go.
Without question, Karen Russell colors her work with a wildly inventive imagination. Where else can you be transported to an Industrial Age Japanese factory in which girls are imprisoned after being fed a potion that makes them spin silk from their fingertips? Or find yourself engrossed, and your disbelief perfectly suspended, as you observe a massage therapist heal an Iraq War veteran whose elaborate back tattoo begins to morph and mimic the psychic and physical healing occurring between the masseur and the vet? Karen Russell never sets foot in the same river twice, and we're all better off reading her unique tales.
But her work does suffer from its own ornateness. God help you if her story is set near an ocean, because, by the end of that briny story, Russell will have elaborately described that ocean one hundred and six different ways. It's poetic and beautiful, but it disrupts the narrative flow. Also, there's a familiar problem that afflicts a lot of "New Yorker" short fiction: the paltry and unsatisfying conclusion. Sometimes the stories are like a dancer who choreographs something ethereal and graceful, only to end her performance by collapsing into a ponderous, unconscious lump on stage. Too many times, you'll spend twenty minutes reading a story, only to finish it and ask `Is that it?'
Karen Russell is poised to make an enduring mark on global fiction, if she hasn't already. It's a joy to witness the growing pains, knowing we're watching the evolution of a Great American Author. VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVES is an important (and enjoyable) step in that process.
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I don’t usually read short stories, mostly because, despite studying short stories...Read more