I finished Karen Russell’s collection of short stories today. For the past ten days or so Russell has been entertaining me with her stories on my way to and from work and pretty much anywhere else I choose to drive. There’s no way that I can do justice to her writing with a review. I can tell you that I really enjoyed the book, but I just don’t have the ability to properly critique her work. What I do have the ability to do is use Google to search out other people’s thoughts, and with a little CTRL-C/CTRL-V magic I can share the parts of those reviews that capture my impression of the book.
From the Library Journal Review:
Russell’s first story collection is a thing of beauty. Each story makes its own bizarre premise seem commonplace. This startlingly original set of stories…feels as though it might have been written by Lemony Snicket and Margaret Atwood.
I should mention that the excerpt above is (c) Copyright 2010 Library Journals LLC and I have no permission to redistribute their dazzling critique.
A series of upbeat, sentimental fables, the 10 stories of Russell’s debut are set in an enchanted version of North America and narrated by articulate, emotionally precocious children from dysfunctional households. Each merges the satirical spirit of George Saunders with the sophisticated whimsy of recent animated Hollywood film. Russell has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Jonathan Safron Foer , and her macabre fantasies structurally evoke great Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor.
Some of Russell’s stories do have that same feeling as O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find. Having never read George Saunders and having never heard of Jonathan Safron Foer I’ll have to take Publisher’s Weekly word that she merges Saunders satirical spirit and has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Foer. She is certainly a satirist, and her descriptive language paints vivid pictures.
Here are few quotations from St. Lucy’s: Stories that I quite enjoyed:
“We are all raccoon-drunk on moonlight and bloodshed and the heady, underblossom smell of the forest.”
“I wish I could say I gulp pure courage as I run, like those brave little girls you read about in stories, … But this burst of speed comes from an older adrenaline, some limbic other. Not courage, but a deeper terror. I don’t want to be left alone. And I am ready to defend Ossie against whatever monster I encounter, … and save her for myself.”
“My mom says I’m destined to be the sort of man who uses big words but pronounces them incorrectly.”
“Far away, I can hear Mouflon, our last sheep, bleating in the dark. I wonder if Annie is still out to protect her, still scouring the woods in barefoot pursuit of those dogs. I feel sorry for Annie, alone with a rabid pack of her own delusions. I feel sorrier for Mouflon. She’s alone with Annie.”
“When you’re a kid, it’s hard to tell the innocuous secrets from the ones that will kill you if you keep them.”
There are many more, and better, examples of Russell’s writing. Unfortunately, I only have the audio-book version, which means I couldn’t mark my favorite passages to go back to later.
If you’re looking for quick, bite-sized reads and enjoy a bizarre mix of mythology and gothic you’ll probably enjoy these stories. Be warned, however, that if you’re looking for resolutions and happy endings you won’t find them here.