Title: Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Author: Karen Russell
Publisher: Chatto and Windus, Random House UK
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Short stories are integral to what I read. They always have been. I do not remember a time not reading short stories. Maybe that is how I started reading. A writer cannot hide behind a short story. This is how Jonathan Franzen put it subtly in one of his essays on Alice Munro (which I think everyone must read), the short story genius. Sometimes I feel that the short story has not been given its due on the literature scene, but then I start thinking about the writers and I am glad that that is not the case. At least not when publishers are still publishing a collection of short stories (which is rather difficult to find these days) and when readers like me are reading them.
This brings me to the review of a collection of short stories I finished reading quite recently. “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell is a collection like none other that I have read recently. I had heard a lot about Karen Russell. Her first book of stories and novel were major hits and I knew that if I were to start with the author, I would with this book and I am glad it worked that way.
The collection as the title suggests is rather weird. The stories start abruptly and it takes a while for the reader to get into it, however once the reader does, then he or she wonders why did the story/stories end so soon. That is one of the best compliments according to me, a writer can receive. There are eight stories in the book and each of them different than the other – from vampires surviving on lemons to a bunch of girls almost imprisoned in the Meiji Empire, reeling silk for the Emperor and Japan’s trade (which has a brilliant twist to it) to a boy on the verge of growing up and coming to age, stumbling on clues that could be the probable future to the Gothic Old West (which by the way gave me the creeps as I kept reading it).
The stories are written as matter-of-fact and with deep intensity. Karen knows how to write sometimes for herself (which doesn’t seem like that though) and at times for the reader, maintaining a perfect balance and rhythm. The only story which I did not enjoy in the collection was, “Dougbert Shackelton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” as it was too short and ended way too soon, without providing anything to me as a reader.
The mix of stories could not have been better in this collection. The stories border on the weird side of life, the one that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about. They are haunting and refreshing – both at the same time and that is what makes the collection brilliant and rather unique. I would definitely recommend this one quite highly, but more so because I also have a soft corner for short stories and this one doesn’t disappoint at all.