first of all—greg—i lied to you. i told you that the conch shell story (The City of Shells) was my favorite because i felt put on the spot and distracted, and that was the first one i thought of. but my real favorite story is the one on the boated retirement community (Out to Sea). god—i felt that one in my desiccated old heart-sac.
i really enjoyed this collection. the stories all contain wavery bits of the surreal—her style reminds me more of kelly link than george saunders, which comparison greggers made. there is always something prickly about george saunders—something almost aggressive and mocking. these are more dreamy and even the unpleasant parts feel safe, like waking up could make the problems go away for the characters.
the only story i was not crazy about was the one with the minotaur (from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration). in fact, i mentioned this to greg, and he said “man, i am so sick of minotaurs.” so—authors take note. greg is over the minotaur.
russell is a very confident writer. she doesn’t take the easy way out, but she also doesn’t go for the “unexpected” scenes that arrive unsupported by the rest of the story. and she sure does like the word “limn!”
the collection is teasingly connected, like millhauser’s enchanted night: all the stories take place in the same island community in the florida everglades, where marvelous and magical things happen: girls take ghost lovers, or have werewolf parents, boys spy on secret adult rituals at the ice skating rink (complete with skating baboons), or have vivid dreams of atrocities of the past. characters will occasionally pop up in other stories, but only in whispers or offhand remarks, just to see if you are paying attention.
she has a real delicacy to her prose, and even when her stories are unresolved, frustratingly so, i don’t feel it is because she didn’t know how to end it, but that she chose her ambiguity with a shrug and a wink.
i am glad she is the current darling of the young literary scene; i wish her the best and am very excited to see how her new full-length piece compares to this. thumbs up, karen russell, and great name!!