Apparently, Vampires went over poorly with the reading group I didn’t attend this month. Glad I didn’t go, because I’d have had a hard time sitting through an unenthused meeting, given how thoroughly I enjoyed existing within the worlds and language of this collection. The title story and “Reeling for Empire” were such deeply evocative otherworlds, but the final story–“The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis”–was it for me. The best story in the collection. Russell’s handling of the gay themes, completely subtextual and yet painfully present, was incredible. The last line, “Somewhere I think I must still be standing, just like that,” rang with me for days. Such a haunting, restrained, accomplished story.
All of which led me to St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a collection that featured the same sharp, arresting language, but in service of stories that felt to me looser. (I am excepting here the middle stories in Vampires, which I admit I found weak, though forgivably so thanks to their bookends.)
A master class in:
WORDS. A friend of mine in the Hopkins MFA kvells about his experience in Karen Russell’s class at Williams, and I understand why: her relationship with rich, full, textured, unexpected, pause-worthy nouns and verbs is unreal. Nouns are verbs (piano; candle; constellate.) Verbs have verve (spool; limn; loam.) Nouns are sumptuous (defenestration; caul; sacrum; meridian.)
As a reader, I am willing to forgive all manner of plot holes and stalled pacing in light of such deft use of language. This is why I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing. And I am in awe of the facility with which Russell makes her passionate love of language evident in every line.
“This is it, this is the geographical limit of how far I’ll go for Ossie. We are learning latitude and longitude in school, and it makes my face burn that I can graph the coordinates of my own love and courage with such damning precision.”
“On land, Ossie’s body looks like an unmade bed, all lumpy and disheveled. But in the moonlight, my naked sister is lustrous, almost holy….All this time, my odd-waddling sister has been living in a mother’s body.”
“Olivia was a cartographer of imaginary places…nostalgic for places that [she]’d never been.”
“Our stupid, rain-diluted longing.”