From the author of the novel Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—comes a magical and uniquely daring collection of stories that showcases the author’s gifts at their inimitable best.
Within these pages, a community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms and plot revolution; a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow that bears an uncanny resemblance to a missing classmate that they used to torment; a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West has grave consequences; and in the marvelous title story, two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood and come to terms with their immortal relationship.
Named a Best Book of the Year by:
The Boston Globe
O, The Oprah Magazine
The A.V. Club
A Washington Post Notable Book
An NPR Great Read of 2013
There are only eight stories in Russell's new collection, but as readers of Swamplandia! know, Russell doesn't work small. She's a world builder, and the stranger the better. Not that she writes fantasy, exactly: the worlds she creates live within the one we know but sometimes they operate by different rules. Take "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979": Nal, its main character, is your basic dejected 14-year-old boy whose brother gets the girls and whose mother has more or less given up; "Nal was a virgin. He kicked at a wet clump of sand until it exploded." But in this beach town, the seagulls have secrets. Or consider "The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis," a story of high school bullying that extends a familiar plot line in eerie and convincing ways. Similarly, "The New Veterans," in which a middle-aged masseuse works on a young Iraq War vet haunted by his buddy's death, blurs horror, the genre, with the horror of daily life. Is the masseuse losing her mind? Is the vet? What about those ignoring the war entirely? Perhaps the answers lie in the veteran's muddy, whole-back tattoo: "Light hops the fence of its design. So many colors go waterfalling down the man's spine that, at first glance, she can't make any sense of the picture." While this story runs a little long, and the otherwise excellent "Proving Up" doesn't need its final gothic touch, Russell's great gift along with her antic imagination who else would give us a barn full of ex-presidents reincarnated as horses? is her ability to create whole landscapes and lifetimes of strangeness within the confines of a short story.
I only got about half way through this collection of short stories. The stories themselves aren't bad, except that none of them has any sort of resolution at the end. They just end abruptly, leaving the reader hanging. Something like finishing the salad and your waiter comes out and says "Sorry, but the cook just quit, so you won't be getting your steak."
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