I know I’ve beaten the whole “I-hate-short-stories-unless-they-are-by-Neil-Gaiman” horse carcass before, BUT I may be turning a corner on short stories. Are they wearing me down? Or am I finally finading short story authors that more align with my tastes (or lack thereof)? Why not both!
One word of gripe about this one, though, Russell doesn’t seem concerned with first impressions. The first story in the collection – Ava Wrestles the Alligator – flirted too much in that magical realism plan that I can never quite articulate what exactly it does to make me to irritable. But it grates. So one story in and I already wanted to quit. (Which doesn’t bode well for my copy of Swamplandia!, which I believe is a full novel based on that particular short story. So. That books is quietly shuffled a bit further down in my To Be Read pile.)
Then I read Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers and I was in love. There was something so enchanting and magical (but not in an abhorrent magical realism kind of way) about the whole idea – a summer camp for kids with sleep disorders, ranging from night terrors to prophetic dreams of the past, like a broken Cassandra. The characters, though lacking the page space for a proper and nuanced development, still managed to come alive.
Out to Sea is another standout in a book of standouts (save the first one, of course). It’s touching and poignant, two emotions that aren’t the easiest to in invoke in written word without becoming schmaltzy and maudlin. The City of Shells is another that managed to deal in complex emotions without coming off as too preachy.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, the titular story, ends the collection on a high note. It is transparently allegorical to growing up and learning a new way to interact in the world, especially with your parents. Maybe this one was such a favorite of mine because of my own relationship with my parents and the upcoming holidays.