Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

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Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: An excellent collection of stories that vary widely in subject. The only things they have in common are that they are beautifully written and wonderfully inventive.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 978-0701187880

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I know you shouldn't judge a book by the cover, but when the cover has a title like Vampires in the Lemon Grove, I can't help but be a little intrigued, especially when the author has a recent history like Karen Russell's. This history includes a Guardian award nomination for a previous collection with another great title; St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and a Pulitzer Prize shortlisting for her novel, Swamplandia!

The intrigue of the title proves to be fulfilled in the first story. Vampire stories are all the rage, thanks in part to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, so there is very little new that can be found in such a story, but Russell has managed to achieve that with a story of vampires attempting to change their diet. Reeling for the Empire is an unexpected delight and unlike anything I recall reading and the basic idea behind The Barn at the End of Our Term is brilliantly funny. Proving Up adds a dark twist to a frontier tale and leaves the ending deliciously up in the air.

The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 is a rites of passage tale and The New Veterans looks at ways of relieving post-traumatic stress. But neither leaves it there, as in Russell's hands these potentially standard subjects are given new life by adding something a little different. So does sports fandom, thanks to the hilarious Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating and another rites of passage tale sees bullies get a shock in The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis, which also has a wonderfully open ending.

I've been intentionally very brief in my descriptions of the stories here. Karen Russell is a writer of rare imagination and these stories need to be discovered by each individual reader. In giving away even a little of the stories, I may take something away from the voyage of discovery. Whilst this means I can't necessarily prove that the stories would appeal, I can be sure that they will delight every reader in large measure, whether the brief outlines here make it sound that way or not.

As more words are written, there are fewer original ideas to be found. What Karen Russell has achieved is to locate several truly original ideas at once. Occasionally using older ideas as a starting point, such as in the titular vampire tale, she puts her own stamp on even these and makes them different. Russell's train of thought is frequently a little left of centre and sometimes veers into the territory of the strange, but the range of ideas is incredible and, as a slightly left of centre person myself, I loved every moment of this collection.

However, Russell is not just a one trick pony. She backs up great invention with a high quality of writing that would in itself have been enough to keep me reading. The descriptions of Zeiger's tattoo in The New Veterans in particular was clear enough that I would recognise it immediately if I saw it. It's not just in the visual that Russell succeeds, as Larry Rubio's emotional turmoil in The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis is presented so well as to be tangible, as it the internal battle with the reelers in Reeling for the Empire.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a joy of a collection. It's the equivalent of catching a butterfly in your hand and being able to take a close look at the beauty of the creature. Like that butterfly, this collection is beautifully put together and as admirable a sight when examined closely as when it takes wing and flutters away. I've found that you don't just read a Karen Russell story, you discover it and, once discovered, you recognise how precious it is and love it.

For another collection of excellently written short stories, although of a darker nature, I recommend The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates

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Buy Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell at


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