From Pulitzer Prize finalist Karen Russell comes a new short story collection in which a young man falls in love with a two thousand year old girl that he’s extracted from a mass of peat in a Northern European bog, two opportunistic young women fleeing the depression strike out for new territory and find themselves fighting for their lives, and a new mother strikes a diabolical deal, agreeing to breastfeed the devil in exchange for her son's protection.
... the strangeness is never forced, the surrealism always grounded in recognizable emotion and experience ... Russell excels at a kind of creeping, low-level horror ... Russell’s particular gift lies in taking themes that are close to universal and presenting them in stories whose strangeness comes to seem entirely natural, even necessary. Aside from their fantastical elements, these stories are united by Russell’s willingness to engage deeply with darkness and by her penchant for unexpected endings. This is no small thing ... in Russell’s short stories nothing is inevitable. She has impeccable command of her form.
The eight stories here range from good to really good, with one masterpiece, The Prospectors ... exposes the central core of the strange in the familiar landmarks of American history ... horror always cohabits with humor ... The stories in this superb collection swoop into all three of those worlds, but, speaking as a reader, I always feel like I’m transported to a literary 'green world' whenever I open a book by Karen Russell.
Alternate realms and wacky ideas can only take a writer so far; the works of literary surrealism that never leave us are those that find the perfect blend of the fantastic with the familiar. Russell’s work claims its place at the literary heights by accomplishing just that, and by remaining accountable to the consequences. This is particularly true of her new and deftly chimeric collection ... Multilayered and complex, these new stories reveal a maturity that results from persistent experience and, of course, that fiendish trickster we call time ... Devotees will have no trouble recognizing Russell’s unique thumbprint in these eight stories; the style and voice belong without question to Russell, but they are noticeably sharper, both in craft and cunning ... Russell takes fewer structural risks in these stories than she has in her previous collections — not necessarily a bad thing, but noticeable all the same — and we don’t get to see her wield that wonderful collective first-person point of view that made us fall in love ... Nevertheless, it will be hard for Russell fans to finish her newest collection without thinking it her strongest or, at the very least, her most multivalent and invigorating work to date ... For an author who has accomplished so much, how remarkable it is to say with all sincerity that Russell has, in fact, outdone herself. In true surrealist fashion, she has created a writing world for herself where ceilings no longer exist, and where traversing uncertainty is simply a matter of singing into the water in search of a wall, and changing the future accordingly.