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I hadn't read anything by Karen Russell before (the mixed reviews of Swamplandia suggested an overhyped young author), but thought I'd check out this collection of short stories.
The pieces all have the kind of whimsical-but-serious premises you'll recognize if you've ever opened a copy of McSweeney’s or listened to a song by The Decemberists. A vampire in a state of ennui is hung up on behaving in stereotypical vampire ways, even though his vampire girlfriend has assured him it's not necessary to drink blood or fear the sun. Seagulls bring objects that alter the life of a teenager in 1970s Australia, and reflect his mixed admiration and jealousy towards his older brother. Girls in a 19th century Japanese mill are biochemically transformed into human silkworms, but later stage an unprecedented work stoppage. A massage therapist finds that her fingers can alter the memories -- and past -- of a young Iraq War veteran, but not without cost. President Rutherford Hayes is reincarnated as a horse, in a barn housing other former US presidents (or at least popular caricatures of them) who are now horses, and frets that his former wife may be a nearby sheep.
Most pieces evoke a mood that’s an enjoyable mix of absurd, wry, poignant, unsettling, and haunting. Russell has a gift for artful physical description and crafting voices. The skillful cast of voice actors who performed the audiobook probably deserve part of the credit for that, too.
However, there’s somewhat of a sense of a natural stylist still finding her feet in other departments. The two duds (IMO) were the krill vs. whales piece that tried for laughs, but came off more like a Dave Barry column with f-bombs, and one that had a teenage bully of a protagonist who was a little too unconvincing for me. I wouldn’t have minded had she pushed her more "unfinished" endings a little further -- I think ambiguity is a delicious ingredient, but teaspoons, Ms. Russell, not tablespoons.
Still, if you're a fan of magic realism in the same vein as Kelly Link's fiction, you'll probably enjoy this book. Russell's talent might have yet to reach its full bloom, but it's well on the way.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Where does Vampires in the Lemon Grove rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
This is by far one of the best audio books I've listened to! The stories were all quite different, with different narrators to match. The best of them were utterly haunting. The words and voices cast a spell on me, and linger with me still.
What did you like best about this story?
My favorite stories really stayed with me. The stories themselves are lovely, dark, beautiful things, and the actors reading them were perfectly chosen.
Which scene was your favorite?
My favorite stories were the silk weaver, the massage therapist, and the scarecrow ones. They seemed to get at a dark, true element of human psychology in a way that realism never could.
Any additional comments?
I highly recommend this audio book!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful