Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is just up my alley: a collection of weird, off-beat sci-fi/fantasy short stories. All are creepy because they combine our world with something other-worldly and thus ask how we would respond in such a situation.

My favorite was "Reeling for an Empire," in which young Japanese girls are sold as factory workers, only to be given a drink which turns them into human silkworms. They are confined in a factory where they have no choice but to pull out their thread each day or die. I think this one appealed to me because of the way it reflects our fear of our bodies not being our own, something I can relate to as I'm currently pregnant. And though my pregnancy is much desired and wanted--whereas the girls' condition is not--I can still understand the frustration of not feeling in charge of your own physical self, of feeling your body as something different from "you" for the first time.

But, truthfully, all the stories were fabulous, with the last two, 'The New Veterans" and "The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis," especially affecting. "The New Veterans" takes the idea of psychosomatic pain to a new level as a massage therapist works to literally knead out a soldier's war trauma from his tattoo. The last piece makes scarecrows the most terrifying I've ever seen them.

"The Barn at the End of Our Term" is the most absurd. It takes place on a horse farm, where half the horses are embodied by former U.S. presidents. It answers a great question no one has ever asked: what would it be like to get a bunch of our former presidents together and force them to live in horses' bodies?

Vampires in the Lemon Grove is the perfect kind of new horror. It's terrifying and strange without ever going too far beyond the understandable.

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