From Zak M. Salih Email him at zak[AT]borderstan.com.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, the new short story collection from Karen Russell (whose novel Swamplandia! was a finalist for last year’s we-don’t-have-a-winner Pulitzer Prize for Literature), is handsomely written and compulsively readable. It’s one of those books you can’t put down until you find yourself turning the last pages of the final story.
A cornucopia of fantastic creatures, bizarre situations and mild horror, these are eight powerful tales of innocence lost; of what happens when the existential wool is pulled from off our eyes and we see our lives for what they really are. Vampires, horses, young boys – everyone’s rediscovering themselves here, and sometimes with unfavorable results.
There are few duds in this book. In fact, to call out some of the standout pieces would be to nearly describe every story. Even still, the impressive ones include the title story, about the marriage woes of aging vampires living in an Italian lemon grove; “Reeling for the Empire,” in which young Japanese girls, transformed into silkworms, struggle for their own unique labor rights; and “The Barn at the End of our Term,” a hilarious story in which dead presidents find themselves reincarnated as horses on a farm.
If you find yourself hooked after these stories and want to read further, you’ll also find magical massage therapists that help Iraq War vets through their trauma, a mysterious scarecrow that haunts a pack of New Jersey bullies, a Hitchcockian swarm of birds and more. Taken together, Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a wonderful trove of neo-Gothic tales that dials back the genre’s traditional doom and gloom in place of something strange, imaginative and wholly unique.