Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Vampires in the Lemon Grove [review; reread]

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Published by Vintage on January 14, 2014 (originally 2013)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.68 (as of 2020-02-08)
Spoiler-free Review

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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.

I’m honestly devastated that I didn’t enjoy this more, considering I had originally given it five stars. This is one of those rare (for me) instances where re-reading is not necessarily a good idea. Interestingly, the stories I don’t remember liking much were my favorites on this readthrough, and vice-versa. It’s interesting to see how my reading tastes have changed over time, and this is very indicative of that. I wish I had read the rest of Russell’s bibliography around the first time I read this, as I think her writing isn’t really for me anymore and it would have been nice to experience it when it was.

By this time we’d found a dirt cellar in which to live in Western Australia, where the sun burned through the clouds like dining lace. That sun ate lakes, rising out of dead volcanoes at dawn, triple the size of a harvest moon and skull-white, a grass-scorcher. Go ahead, try to walk into that sun when you’ve been told your bones are tinder.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove 4/5
Reeling for the Empire 5/5
The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 3/5
Proving Up 2.5/5
The Barn at the End of Our Term 2/5
Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating 2/5
The New Veterans 3/5
The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis 4/5

He couldn’t remember the last time he had acted without reservation on a single desire.

The average rating for these is 3.19, which I rounded down to 3. While there were a couple strong stories in here, the ones that didn’t work for me really stood out. I will mention that Reeling for the Empire is an incredible read. I think before I had even read this collection the first time, I had heard an audio version of the story — meaning this is my third time “reading” it and I still loved it. It becomes more meaningful to me each time.

I was glad he was afraid–I hadn’t known that you could feel so grateful to a friend, for living in fear with you. Fear was otherwise a very lonely place.

There is nothing wrong per se with the stories I didn’t like, and it’s certainly all personal preference. I found the stories I rated on the lower end either needlessly goofy or uncompelling. Proving Up in particular has a lot of promise but unfortunately fell flat for me. I’d definitely recommend this collection to people who like “weird” short fiction, though. There are a lot of fantastic elements that I would say could be categorized as magical realism. If you’ve enjoyed more of Russell’s work, you’ll probably like this and if not, then I doubt you will.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves [review]


St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Published by Vintage Books in 2005
my rating: ⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 
3.79 (as of 2018-05-09)

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In these ten glittering short stories, debut author Karen Russell takes us to the ghostly and magical swamps of the Florida Everglades. Here, wolf-like girls are reformed by nuns; a family makes its living wrestling alligators in a theme park; and little girls sail away on crab shells. Filled with stunning inventiveness and heart, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves introduces a radiant new writer.

She used to have these intense bouts of homesickness in her own bedroom. When she was very small, she would wake up tearing at her bedspread and shrieking, “I wanna go home! I wanna go home!” Which was distressing to all of us, of course, because she was home.

Nobody is more bummed than me that I didn’t like this collection. My first introduction to Karen Russell was Vampires in the Lemon Grove, another collection of short stories that I picked up on a whim in 2015 and absolutely devoured. It became one of my favorite books and I recommended it to literally everyone who would listen. Ironically enough, while I chose it for the postal book club that my friend Rachel started, another group member (there are 12 of us) chose this one! I was stoked that I would finally get the chance to read more of Karen’s work.

Everybody wants to go home, and no one can agree on where that is anymore.

Unfortunately, the majority of the stories in this collection just didn’t vibe with me. They felt bizarre just for the sake of being bizarre and I found it impossible to connect with any of the characters (save for a couple). The stories felt like they stopped abruptly and I had difficulty understanding their purpose. There were some stories about girls having questionable relationships with grown men that made me unbelievably uncomfortable. Perhaps there were underlying messages that I truly just didn’t understand.

My rating for each story:

Ava Wrestles the Alligator ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (cw sexual assault??)
Haunting Olivia ⭐️⭐️ (cw familial death)
ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers ⭐️⭐️ (cw r-word, animal death)
The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime ⭐️⭐️ (cw ableism)
Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Lady Yeti and the Palace of Artificial Snows ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The City of Shells ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Out to Sea ⭐️⭐️ (cw underage drug abuse; pedophilia)
Accident Brief, Occurrence #00/422 ⭐️⭐️.5 (cw casual racism)
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

He is an obdurate man, a man of irritating, inveterate habits. He refuses to put down toilet seats, or quit sucking on pistachio shells, or die.

My average rating was 2.8 stars, rounded down to 2. I think the content warnings really speak for themselves as to why I didn’t love this collection. Many of the stories included problematic themes that I didn’t really find combated or justified in any way. I suppose the point of this collection is to make people uncomfortable, but aside from the two four-star stories, I just didn’t enjoy myself reading this. I was going to DNF after the fourth story, but I really wanted to finish this for the book club and was also looking forward to the title story (which was last, and which was worth reading).

This book may still be worth it for you if you’re interested. It definitely worked for other people, so I don’t want to turn anyone away, but this really wasn’t for me.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)