Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

vampiresThis book has received a lot of critical acclaim in 2013, and it was as good as I expected it to be – although I have to say it was a book I appreciated but wasn’t riveted to. Still…

I can best describe Vampires as “literary horror”. These are short stories in the vein of Stephen King that also reminded me at times of The Twilight Zone. Most of Russell’s stories are very grounded in real life and realistic characters, with just a touch of fantasy or oddity. That’s what makes them so good, and so eerie.

The title story is about an aging vampire who lives in a lemon grove in Sorrento, Italy with his vampire love, Magreb. Clyde is struggling to keep from biting people, and has found that lemons will satisfy the addiction – for a while anyway.  Russell creates an interesting, moving portrait of a monster who really isn’t one.

One of my favorite stories was more in a science fiction vein. “Reeling for the Empire” is about young girls in Japan who are recruited to work in a silk factory. What they don’t realize is they are forced to ingest a chemical that turns them into human-sized silkworms, and the silk they produce comes from their own bodies. They have to keep making silk, or die.

Another favorite story was “The New Veterans” in which Beverly, a massage therapist, offers free deep tissue massages to veterans. She meets a vet with a full back tattoo depicting a traumatic event, and finds she can massage away some of his worst memories. I find tattoos fascinating and beautiful, and the way this story is written was particularly memorable.

But ten minutes into their session, Beverly can feel the good change happening – Zeiger’s breathing slows, and she feels her thoughts slowing too, shrinking into the drumbeat of his pulse. Her mind grows quieter and quieter within the swelling bubble of her body, until all her attention is siphoned into her two hands. The oil becomes warm and fragrant. A sticky, glue-yellow sheet stretches between her palms and the sergeant’s tattoo. Each body, Beverly believes, has a secret language candled inside it, something inexpressibly bright that can be transmitted truly only via touch.

And very classic-creepy was “Proving Up” a story about living on the harsh plains of Nebraska. Young Miles is sent by his father to deliver the communities only glass window pane to one of the neighbors. Settlers can only earn title to their land if they have a glass window, so the community tries to pass the window around when the inspector is rumored to arrive. Only poor Miles runs into a deadly storm and a little more trouble than he bargained for.

Finally, “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” is a story that will resonate with most readers, about children who bully other children, or go along with bullying, but really regret what they’ve done.

You can see from these descriptions the range of settings Russell uses in her stories. Each is set in a very different place and time, and has a very different feel. I appreciated that. The stories are a nice mix of tone and length, humor and sadness.

I’m not a huge short story reader, because I prefer the continuity of a longer story. This book was good, but diripnineperilshortdn’t always hold my attention because I didn’t get too vested in the characters – and maybe because each story was so different.

I read this book for the R.I.P. IX event (“Peril of the Short Story”) at Stainless Steel Droppings.

2 Responses to “Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell”

  1. Yves The Unassuaged

    Ah, reading your posts is a wonderful respite from my cluttered, busy, and often draining life; and I find myself envious of your ability to read (hopefully)fascinating books as often as you do. I can’t remember when I last read a book — I think June — so I’m drenched in desire and impotent longing. Sometimes short stories or even long narrative poetry is all I have time to read and getting lost in a thick book seems like something I’ll do when the kids are gone and I’m retired. My Nook is filled not with old English Gothic horrors and enveloping science fiction but fiction magazines and story compilations. I say all of that to say that this book sounds like it’s my current speed. At least until I can occupy the kids and toss the husband out the door for a few hours.

  2. wolfshowl

    This sounds really interesting, and you have me intrigued by the comparison to The Twilight Zone. I’ll have to add it to the list!


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