vampsinlemgrovecoverVampires in the Lemon Grove is Karen Russell’s second collection of short stories. Her first, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and her first novel, Swamplandia!, received quite a bit of critical acclaim. Award nominations and whatnot. I didn’t actually get a chance to read Swamplandia! when it first came out, so I didn’t exactly have the clearest idea of what I was in for. But people had told me that Russell’s a very good writer and that her stuff was “weird”—which made me think a couple of things.

The things I thought were: 1) interesting, 2) exciting. 3) unique, and 4) BRING IT!

What a good life choice.

Russell, is, in fact, a very good writer, and her stuff is delightfully different from the norm*. So, as far as that goes, expectations met.

But that doesn’t really give you an accurate account of how great these stories are.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove contains eight stories—all different, all great, all with a sort of magical realist bent to them.  I loved all of the stories. They all gave me fine, intriguing, subtle ideas and images I’d never considered before. The stories range in subject from new veterans, vampires, presidential horses, and silkworm women to impossible scarecrows. It’s hard not to just zip through the book in one go, and it’s even harder when you get to the end and think, “No! Where are the rest of them? Can’t have possibly gone through all eight already?!”

You may check the table of contents to make sure there was not a misprint (there wasn’t). You may feel a bit like a hand desperately groping around in an empty chip bag. But without the whole man-I-just-ate-a-whole-bag-of-chips-by-myself-what-a-bad-call thing.

In fact, these stories are good for you. They’re mostly fun, mostly fizzy with intriguing concepts, but some of them are quite thought-provoking. None are really revolutionary, I don’t think. But they’re delightful and honest, and examine some of the arbitrary assumptions that we (I?) tend toward in an artful, easy way.

I mean, reading is very much a Modern Art. You get out of it what you bring to it, a lot of the time. So, grains of salt and personal experience/interest, blah blah blah. These are great.

Two of the stories, particularly, hit me square in the chest and haven’t let go yet. So.

I will be having some issues about them, thanks very much

Translation: I love them a lot/SHOO! GO READ THEM!

*”The Norm” here meaning works of fiction that easily categorize into genres.