Fantastical Stories Transform Dull Weekend

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

First Line: “In October, the men and women of Sorrento harvest the primofiore, or ‘first flowering fruit,’ the most succulent lemons; in March, the yellow bianchetti ripen, followed in June by the green verdelli.”

I discovered Karen Russell in 2010 when I chose St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, her first story collection, to read and review for a creative writing class. The title hooked me immediately, and her experimental, dream-worlds do not disappoint.

I want to liken her writing style to that eerie darkness of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. She’ll occasionally play with magical, physical transformations of her characters, and her tone–I don’t quite know how to put it, other than ‘psychologically-spooky!’

This collection begins with a love story centuries old. Two vampires have retired in Italy, where they quench their thirst with lemons. Next we’re launched to a Japanese dystopia in which a metamorphous tonic turns young women into silkworm hybrids. (There’s the Kafka for you!) She also gives us U.S. presidents reincarnated into horses (hilarious), and a somber look at PTSD when a tattooed veteran collects his gratis massages at Dedos Mágicos.

My only critique here is that the final story fell a little flat for me. I wish the collection ended with more oomph, but by no means will that dismiss it from my bookshelf!

Bottom Line: Russell is unique and unexpected and budding creative writers can find wonderful tips from her experimental style.