In Santa Francesca’s lemon grove sits an old, tired vampire watching endless tourists float by in faceless droves each day. Clyde is a scared, sad creature. Children trick-or-treating with necklaces of garlic terrify him even though garlic can’t actually hurt him. He answers his door, shaking, to give them candy. “You small mortals don’t realize the power of your stories,” he thinks. Clyde is lost in a world where only incorrect myths exist to guide him. He is as unsure as the next person about his future, but his future is an eternity.
“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell is an inspiring collection of riveting short stories. Russell is best known for “Swamplandia!,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer last year. Though I enjoyed “Swamplandia!,” I would recommend “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” to everyone, near and far. These stories are stunningly beautiful. They filled my mind and heart with images that I know will stay with me for years to come.
In “Reeling for the Empire,” young women of all backgrounds, whether as “graceful as calligraphy” or “crow-voiced and vulgar,” are bought from their parents to work in the Nowhere Mill for one year. The girls are given tea, which transforms them into human silk worms, the silk pooling in their stomachs and fur growing over their bodies. The silk is extracted through their fingers, glowing threads of “light gray, like my cat’s fur” and “a translucent green I swore I’d never seen anywhere in nature” by a machine.
“The Barn at the End of Our Term” introduces us to 11 stabled horses, which contain the souls of former mediocre presidents of The United States of America. Rutherford B. Hayes spends his afternoons talking to Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Buchanan, James Garfield, Warren Harding and others. They debate whether their existence – full of sweet hay, breezes and pastures – is heaven or hell.
One of my favorite pieces is “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating.” Dougbert is a fervent supporter of Team Krill in the Food Chain Games, “a lawless bloodbath” at the South Pole. He advocates cheering for the underdog, the krill, who have lost every Food Chain Game they’ve ever competed in. He teaches us how to be a good supporter of Team Krill by practicing the correct way to swish. “Most people lead with their hips, but for me, it’s all in the ribs.”
“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” is thus far, one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is eloquent, emotional and vivid. The characters that Russell creates are engrossing and devastating in turn, inviting us into stories that are as deeply human as they are wondrous.
(Originally written for Get Out)