While buying a copy of Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble, Amazon alerted me that I “might also like” Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I’ve never read Swamplandia (although I’m totally going to now), and I knew nothing of Russell and her work, but the title sounded awesome and I’m always looking for quality speculative short fiction. I was not disappointed. Russell’s fabulous and her collection is as varied and weird and wonderful as the title suggests.
Her work runs the gambit from vampires subsisting on lemons in an Italian orchard to American presidents embodied in horses and Japanese silk workers who spin threads from their own bodies. The stories are at once as dark as they are humorous, and leave a lasting impression after the story is done. I really loved all the pieces in this collection, there wasn’t one story that felt like filler, but my four favorites were:
- Reeling for the Empire – the Japanese silk industry has taken it a step too far, and women are turned into silkworms.
- The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 – a struggling young man finds a cache of objects stolen by seagulls that provide the answers for some of the misery in his life.
- Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules of Antarctic Tailgaiting – this was just fun, and told in such a new and fresh way.
- The New Veterans – this one stuck with me hard, as a massage therapist tries to heal an Iraq veteran’s PTSD through manipulating the images on his back tattoo. (I know, it sounds strange and it is, but it’s also soooo good).
Russell’s prose is open and friendly and warm, even in its darkest moments, but lurking beneath its accessibility is a depth to the human condition that showcases much more that what’s on the page.
If you like Kelly Link or Ray Bradbury, considering checking out this book.