Of course I picked up Karen Russell's 2013 short story collection 'Vampires in the Lemon Grove' totally for the title. Her fantastical worlds are awesome. These eight stories didn't disappoint. I slowly savored them over a long afternoon at the pool with freshly squeezed homemade lemonade. (Read reviews here, here and here.)
The collection begins with the eponymous title story, but oddly, I didn't quite fancy it. It's uhh...about rather...silly vampires. Eight stories, some I really dig, the others, not so much. They're mostly deliciously horrifying and hilarious.
The last story 'The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis' makes a strong social comment about bullying in school. Of four kids in Anthem, New Jersey, narrated from one of the four kids'- Larry Rubio's viewpoint. Of how they bullied fellow new transfer student Eric Mutis, who then mysteriously disappeared from school, and how the boys then found a scarecrow of dressed in Eric Mutis' clothes and Hoops sneakers found tied to an oak tree in Friendship Park. They pulled down the scarecrow and threw it into the ravine. Then they found the scarecrow being methodically amputated. There could be perfectly logical explanations. But in the minds of the young boys, it became somewhat like a horror story. Until residual guilt in Larry Rubio haunted him with thoughts of Eric, and he had to get his friends to help him retrieve the scarecrow from the ravine. And somehow, I suppose, he became a rooted scarecrow... heh...I'd like to think, permanently.
I spread my arms above the rabbit, so no birds dove for it. I had a knife in my back pocket. The thought occurred to me that I was the scarecrow's guardian now, and the symmetry of this reversal both pleased and terrified me. Yes: now I would stand watch over what remained of Eric Mutis. It was only fair, after what I'd done to Mutant. I would be the scarecrow's scarecrow. My shadow draped over the remains of the doll.
I love the second story 'Reeling for the Empire'. Creepy. Of a world where silkworms have died. Japan is the only country still producing silk because they found a way to pull silk from humans, by literally altering their physiology and turning them into giant silkworms. The girls provide threads of different colors. Of the trapped innocent girls kaiko-joko, the evil Agent and eventual freedom. Loads of social criticism going on in there. A fabulous dark little tale.
"These wings of ours are invisible to you," I say directly into the Agent's ear. I clasp my hands around his neck, lean into the whisper. "And in fact you will never see them, since they exist only in our future, where you are dead and we are living, flying."
I then turn the Agent's head so that he can admire our silk. For the past week every worker has used the altered machine to spin her own cocoon - they hang from the far wall, coral and emerald and blue, ordered by hue, like a rainbow. While the rest of Japan changes outside the walls of Nowhere Mill, we'll hang side by side, hidden against the bricks. Paralyzed inside our silk, but spinning faster and faster. Passing into our next phase. Then we'll escape. (Inside his cocoon, the Agent will turn blue and suffocate.)
"And look," I say, counting down the wall: twenty-one workers, and twenty-two cocoons. When he sees the black sac, I feel his neck stiffen. "We have spun one for you." I smile down at him.