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.