Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Book Score: 3
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a short story collection from Karen Russell. I first came across Russell not from her award winning novel Swamplandia, but from a novella called Sleep Donation, which I found to be beautifully written but frustrating. (Read the review here.) Since then, I’ve kept her filed in the back of my mind as an author I should try reading again. When I came across Vampires in the Lemon Grove in the discount stacks at Barnes & Noble (along with Zadie Smith‘s NW — more on that in the next review), I had to pick it up. And I’m glad I did.
In addition to the titular story about a vampire who subsists on lemons, there are some real standouts here. “Proving Up” is solid ghost story during the settling of Nebraska under the Homestead Act, as the Zegners try to prove their claim. “The New Veterans” is a creepy piece vaguely reminiscent of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man about an masseuse and an Iraq war vet with a tattoo of his friend’s death day across his back.
But for my money, the best was the unlikely “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” a farce where deceased US Presidents are reincarnated as horses. It is fun and funny, yet somehow also melancholy and sad, as the Presidents adapt to their new station. Russell truly shines in creating a believable world out of an unbelievable premise.
There were some clunkers too. “Reeling for the Empire” left me flat, and “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Arctic Tailgaiting” felt like filler generated by a creative writing class prompt. But overall, the collection is solid. Definitely worth your time.