Friday, March 15, 2013
Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Now with her new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Russell has once again proven her amazing skills not only as a skilled writer, but also as a writer of "realistic fantasy." All of her stories place the magical and improbable in very human situations. Her characters, whether vampires in the title story or former presidents reincarnated as horses (The Barn at the End of Our Term) are treated with great empathy as they tackle universal problems.
Take, for example, the title story. In it, two vampires, Clyde and Magreb, are a couple in a long marriage that not only seems like eternity but is eternity. Clyde, was a blood-sucking vampire before he fell in love with Magreb, a vampire who had never tasted blood. They marry, and Magreb takes it upon herself to reform Clyde. They move to a cellar in western Australia, "where the sun burns through the clouds like dining lace." (p. 11) Magreb encourages Clyde to come out of the cellar and experience the outdoors.
After that, and for the whole of our next thirty years together, Clyde explains, I watched the auroral colors and waited to feel anything but terror. Fingers of light spread across the gray sea toward me, and I couldn't see these colors as beautiful. The sky I lived under was a hideous, lethal mix of orange and pink, a physical deformity. (p. 11)
Eventually, Clyde falls into a depression which the blood is not able to fix. "It never fixed it," Magreb reflects. When the couple moves to the beautiful lemon grove in Sorrento, Italy and Clyde uses the lemons as a sort of methadone, the pain of addiction does not leave him. He takes a human form and loses his ability to fly. By contrast, Magreb soars high above him, choosing the cliffs over a bed with Clyde.
Russell beautifully captures the ebb and flow of love and the struggle of this couple to maintain their affection for each other. And she does so by combining humor with pathos.
The same quality is true of "The Barn at the End of Our Term." As absurd as the premise of the story is, it works. The presidents, now deceased and reincarnated as work horses, still suffer from pangs ambition, loneliness and lost love. Russell makes the presidents appear more human to us than they may have seemed from their offices on high.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove employs wit, imagination and compassion. Karen Russell's use of language and style captures the essence of the experience of living. Each of the eight stories in this collection is a gem.
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