Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

This is yet another feather in my cap of wonderful short story collections for the year.  I've had Karen Russell on my TBR list for a while, and this one has good reviews.  I'm thrilled I gave it a chance. Here's a selection from the publisher's description that gives a brief overview of each story:
A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.
I was so impressed with the quality of these short stories.  The unifying theme reminded me a lot of George Saunders' Tenth of December, which I reviewed earlier this month.  Each story has some small twist to it that brings it into the realm of the paranormal.  I hate to use the word paranormal, because it implies vampires and ghost hunters and a less literary quality.  These stories are just twisted enough to be outside of reality, while still maintaining a definite literary bent.

Entertainment Value
It was just that little bit of twisted-ness that appealed to me in these stories.  I was totally sucked in.  They're literary, but I think easily accessible and will appeal to a wide variety of readers.  I couldn't wait to see where each story was going and I was thrilled when I got there.

I think this is another great book to start with if you're new to short stories  Russell's are very readable and enjoyable, but also very true to the traditional short story format.  I've got a copy of Russell's novel Swamplandia! on my shelf and I definitely plan to read it before the year is out.


  1. I just heard a brief interview with Russell recently.

  2. This book is a compilation of short stories. I loved most of them but a couple (the one with the gulls) I wasn't impressed with. The title story is amazing. I absolutely love the story of the Presidents as horses. My favorite was the story of the silk-worm women. It takes a grotesque/gruesome fact (women turning into worms) and makes it relatable.

    Marlene Detierro (BBB Fort Worth)