From “Ava Wrestles an Alligator”: My sister and I are staying in Grandpa Sawtooth’s Old House until our father, Chief Bigtree, gets back from the Mainland. It’s our first summer alone in the swamp.
You already know that something not so great is going to happen to Ava and her sister. Karen Russell is the author of Swamplandia! and a new collection of short stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I’d read and loved Swamplandia!, but I wanted to try this first collection before getting Vampires in the Lemon Grove. At first, I was a bit disappointed by the stories, but as the collection progressed, they got much better. “Ava Wrestles an Alligator” contains the same characters as Swamplandia!, but I didn’t like it as much. The story about a sleep-away camp for kids with sleep disorders was really good, and also really disturbing. That’s the thing about Karen Russell’s stories. They’re so good, and so well-written and also so strange and scary. But the weird worlds that she create work so well. Here’s the official summary: “In these ten glittering stories, debut author Karen Russell takes us to the ghostly and magical swamps of the Florida Everglades. Here wolf-like girls are reformed by nuns, a family makes their living wrestling alligators in a theme park, and little girls sail away on crab shells. “
I think either these stories sound interesting to you, or they don’t. I can definitely see why some don’t like Russell’s writing, but I can also see why it mesmerizes so many, including me. I didn’t love St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves quite as much as Swamplandia!, but it was still really good, and some of the stories were amazing.
There are so many great images that arise from the situations that Russell puts her characters in. For example, in one of her stories, a family is migrating westward. In their old home, they lived next to an asylum. The migration isn’t going well, and the mother misses “the predictable madness”. I just really liked that turn of phrase. I also forgot to mention that the father of the family is a minotaur.
One criticism that I did have (and that many other reviewers have too) is that most of the stories are really very similar in terms of mood and ambience. There isn’t much variety; each story on its own is great, but in a collection, one likes to have a variety of different types of stories. These are all twisted realities, which is of course what Russell excels most at, but I would have liked to see something different. It’s not that the stories weren’t creative; on the contrary. Each one did have a unique plot, (side note: why don’t we see “an” here? Or do we?) but they all gave off the same general aura, if you know what I mean.
While I was reading this, I was thinking (not for the first time) about how an author becomes a “classic” author. There were probably hundreds of failed writers in the 19th century, and only some are remembered. I was also thinking about those giant collections of all of an author’s work, and of course, the “complete stories” collections. And my question is this: will Karen Russell ever have a volume of complete short stories. Or will she be forgotten like countless other writers? She’s good, that’s for sure, but is she good enough? Just something to think about. I find it very fascinating…
Anyway, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is an excellent book of short stories, although I did like Swamplandia! better. I also like the hardcover edition’s art (left) much better, but I read the paperback version, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Read St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves:
- if you like short stories
- if you like Karen Russell
- if you like gritty magic realism
|Very Good! I would recommend this book!|