When I heard the author of SWAMPLANDIA was coming out with a new book, I was wild to read it. After all, SWAMPLANDIA was up for the Pulitzer Prize, for heaven sake.
Now, I will say that this book is short stories. No, not my usual thing. And I have already read one book of short stories this year, already; something I almost never do. But I had to read this one when I discovered the locale of the first story in the collection.
VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE, by Karen Russell, takes place in Sorrento, near Postitano, a place dear to my heart. These small mountainside cities fairly hang off the sides of the mountains. Are breathtaking to behold; some of the most gorgeous places on the face of the earth.
Clyde and Magreb are two very old vampires existing in a lovely lemon grove in Sorrento. Tourists visit the grove each day; busloads of them. Little do they know that the little old man leaning against a tree in the back of the lemon grove is a vampire. These are not the vampires of the Twilight series, or even those Anne Rice wrote about years ago. These are two broken-down, elderly vampires who are a married couple: man and wife. Written with wit and imagination, this is my favorite of the eight shorts. I do not say this lightly as I am no fan of the vampire rage of today. But this is delightful.
THE BARN AT THE END OF OUR TERM, is not only amusing but it gives a bit of a history lesson. You might even be able to learn something about these former presidents that have been brought back from the past in the form of horses. Some fantasy here, oh yes! Eleven of the twenty-two horses in the barn are past presidents. For instance: “Rutherford B. Hayes is a skewbald pinto with a golden cowlick and a cross-eyed stare. While Warren Harding is a flatulent roan pony who can’t digest grass.” The horses converse in lively conversations about the past. You’ll find yourself completely immersed.
Russell knows how to go dark. She has Gothic and coming-of-age stories for us here. Something for everyone. I think the teen population will especially find these stories amusing and enlightening.
Russell has managed to add humor and humility to stories that are truly more than a bit odd, even, in some cases, downright whacky. She has proven herself to be vividly creative. I find myself still smiling just thinking about the strange and loveable vampire couple.
Karen Russell is a bright young author with immense talent that will appeal to all ages. She is only beginning. What fun to watch her future.
My review copy came from the nice people at Knopf, a division of Random House. Thanks so much!