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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I may well be the last person to read Vampires in the Lemon Grove. (I hope not! I hope many more readers discover its delights!) But I just heard the news of the title story from Karen Russell's first collection being developed for ABC. That is a beautiful event that deserves celebration: a wonderfully strange piece of literature of the type I most admire and aspire to, translated to other, more popular media! So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about her second story collection, which happens to have a title appropriate for the week before Halloween.

It's hard for me remember that Karen Russell is a bestselling author. Of course I'm glad she is and don't begrudge her any other honors—just the opposite. It's just that when I read her stories, I always think she's speaking directly to me and no one else could possibly enjoy this writing as much as I do. That illusion of intimacy when apparently the books appeal to tons of other readers is the sign of literature that will last.

There are some pretty creepy stories in Vampires, if you like that kind of thing. Each story is memorable for its startling way of presenting weird images as familiar. Take, for example, a mangy seagull. Anyone who's spent time living near the sea knows them to be pretty annoying. But as annoying as the seagulls in Karen Russell's world? I had no idea. And most readers know that if a character bullies someone, he'll be haunted—but never before quite like this.

I don't lean toward the darkness in general. While there's plenty of darkness here, in contrast to the first collection, in Vampires it serves to cause real change in most of the characters and, in some cases, to contrast with the light at the end of their journey.

For me, the most amazing journey takes place in "The New Veterans." A massage therapist with her own issues comes into her power as a healer when working on a man with PTSD. In her dealings with him, the implicit question is whether it is more important to uphold "the truth" or to heal. I know what I think, and apparently Karen Russell agrees.

If you've missed Vampires in the Lemon Grove so far, don't hesitate to pick it up now. There's something here for every reader.