Russell is no coy or mannered mistress of the freaky. Much of the pleasure in reading her comes from the wily freshness of her language and the breezy nastiness of her observations … A grim, stupendous, unfavorable magic is at work in these stories. They are not chicly ironic or satiric and certainly not existentially or ethically curious (though punishment for childhood cruelty is pretty much self-inflicted and eternal in ‘The Graveless Doll’). The innocent do not fare well, not the funicular ticket girl in the title story nor the obedient boy attempting to deliver an all-important window in an unworldly blizzard over bone-strewn prairie … Many of the stories are marvelous, but the collection is marred by the inclusion of the overlong and uncharacteristically sentimental ‘New Veterans’...and the rather mundane tale ‘The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979.’
Ms. Russell writes with such psychological precision and such a fully imagined sense of what Derek’s harrowing war experience was like that the more surreal aspects of the story simply become a mirror of a surreal world in which death for a young American arrives in a faraway palm grove in Iraq, a world in which soldiers find that a good-will gesture has set them up for an ambush … The more persuasive stories in this book feature genuine outsiders who consider themselves monsters — because they are ugly or different, set apart from others by their looks or experience or self-conscious self-loathing. It is these monsters that Ms. Russell portrays with such sympathy and inventiveness.
...shot through with dizzying language ...Never heavy-handed, the stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove are imbued with notions of grace and redemption. ‘There is a loneliness,’ vampire Clyde tells us, ‘that must be particular to monsters, I think, the feeling that each is the only child of a species.’ The monsters here practice the frail magic of living with a wobbly vivacity, and Russell’s greatest gift is how she awakens them in our minds. While the stories aren’t religious, they overtake you like some mystical tidal wave. Russell’s prose is touched always with pain and wonder, her characters have an uncanny ability to access what Robert Walser called ‘the true truths,’ and her plots are giddy and snap-wicked. On top of that, she’s hell-bent on raucousness.
The stories that don't work as well feel forced...But even those stories are filled with sentences jam-packed with memorable phrasing. They deliver some payoffs, despite being perhaps too cerebral, too much about ideas rather than events and character development … Russell is a quirky writer. Her work may be too outlandish for some, too reflexively alternative, but those very qualities translate into a dependable stream of admirable originality. What makes Russell so delicious for her fans is the constant trade between the fanciful and the routine, between stories you can live with and stories that are true. Less ambitious than Swamplandia! and even more experimental in its overall tone, it is likely that this work is at heart a book between books.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is one of the most innovative, inspired short-story collections in the past decade. The premises of Russell's stories are astonishingly imaginative, but her prose is so beautiful and assured, it's easy for the reader to suspend his disbelief … It's a testament to Russell's emotional maturity and originality that she's able not only to pull these stories off, but to do so with such seemingly effortless beauty … Vampires in the Lemon Grove is flawless and magnificent, and there's absolutely no living author quite like Karen Russell.
I rave on: this time about Russell's new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Russell is so grand a writer — so otherworldly, yet emotionally devastating; so daffy and daring — that she doesn't need an imprimatur to stake her claim to literary genius. The title story kicks off this collection by doing the near impossible: making me care about vampires, a breed more overexposed these days than Labrador retrievers … I love the sweep of these stories, their goofy-to-majestic tone, the authority of Russell's narrators.
[Vampires in the Lemon Grove] is an excellent book. It has its moments of overreach, its grating excesses, but it is the book we were promised in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Swamplandia! It earns its darkness, amounting to an update on E.T.A. Hoffman's tales, and a number of its stories elicit emotion and reflection in a way Russell's previous efforts signally didn't. Real boys and girls, men and women, have taken the place of storybook characters … Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a startling success.
Monsters abide in Karen Russell’s new short-story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove; both the horror-movie kind, and the hidden sort that live within each of us … Russell’s stories let us accept, without questioning, that which is unexplainable; there’s a you-couldn’t-make-this-up quality to her writing that makes it simultaneously fantastical and real.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove stands out as Russell's best book. Its stories range from fable-like to gothic to experimental to almost traditional, with prose so alive it practically backflips off the page … While a few stories tread on familiar terrain, Russell is equally committed to mapping out completely new territory. We find stories narrated by silkworms, deceased American presidents reincarnated as grumpy, nostalgic horses and — most thrillingly — adults, who existed fuzzily in the background of Russell's earlier books … Russell's stories themselves seem imbued with such cathartic magic.
There are two kinds of pieces in Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The first and better setting for her is a more realistic one: when her fictional world looks pretty much like the one we live in but something uncanny is creeping out the place. That's how the title story works … Russell's less successful mode is straight fantasy, in which the story lives and dies on the potential of its conceit: a company of Japanese slave girls in the Meiji era turned into silkworms in ‘Reeling for the Empire,’ or ‘The Barn at the End of Our Term,’ about a farm full of horses that are also the reincarnations of former presidents … The centerpiece tales in Vampires make a strong case for Russell as a writer at the forefront of young American fiction and evoke the strangeness and disconnection of life in the states.
A Florida native, she's shown a fondness for setting her work in the fecund and spooky Everglades. Now, she ranges far and wide … Spinning language with the same antic inventiveness as plot, Russell describes roosters who ‘make a sound like gargled light,’ a sod house ‘like a hiccup in the earth,’ a shy massage therapist who makes her customers' bodies speak … Take a rest in between these stories. Go for a walk, look around. Don't be surprised if the familiar glimmers with a strange, new sheen.
In these eight impressive stories, Russell pulls the rug out on our imagination, creating perplexing, surreal scenarios that bump into the common reality that most of us take for granted … Karen Russell is at her very best, though, in a dark and memorable Gothic tale like ‘Proving Up’ — a 19th-century Nebraska homesteading story — where her stark language meets her high drama perfectly as she tells of a young boy’s harrowing horse ride in a sudden blizzard.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove is tailor-made for fans of both magical realism and horror. Employing intensely awkward humor (think The Office) and melding it with dark sensibilities (think Poe), she’s written a book that belongs on your shelf next to Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Bas-Lag-era China Mieville … The creepy factor has been dialed up here to the point where you might consider not reading certain stories after dusk … Russell is clearly a fan of horror, and has a knack for finding the scary in the screwball.
A consistently arresting, frequently stunning collection of eight stories … [Russell] returns to [the short story] format with startling effect, reinforcing the uniqueness of her fiction, employing situations that are implausible, even outlandish, to illuminate the human condition … Even more impressive than Russell's critically acclaimed novel.