Book: Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Author: Karen Russell
Published: 2013 (Knopf)
Where has Karen Russell been all my life? Oh yeah, on New York Times Bestseller lists and on the shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize and also busy putting that Guggenheim fellowship to good use. Ahem.
So, point being, I've had no excuse except my own inclination towards distraction to not fall face-face in love with her magical realism that tends to bite reality in the ass and let it sort things out itself. YES. IT IS NOW TIME.
Here there are indeed vampires in a lemon grove, and they got there after the unsettling discovery that they don't really need to drink blood but that they're always thirsty for something. There are also poor Japanese girls who get lured into becoming silk-spinning monsters and use their mutations to escape; kids who fight brothers and seagulls for a chance at young love; tips on how to survive Artic tailgating (my personal favorite, probably because it's the weirdest yet is written as the most matter-of-fact) against those douchebag Whale fans and sub-zero summers; massage therapists who can unwittingly ease their clients' worst nightmares by taking them on themselves; and a scarecrow who looks enough like a bullied former friend who disappeared to insight some major survivor guilt.
They're great. They're all great, and they all have that touch of absurdity that makes them those sorts of escapes from reality reading is best at, yet they're all hung on frames of humanity that make them infinitely more relatable than a lot of the sci fi I've gotten to (yet - yet, I say! I'm sure it's out there). Like, the silkworm ladies became monsters for the very human reason of not having any other resources, and the guys in the Artic are still the same tailing buddies you see crowded into parking lots every fall, trying to make the most convenience work the best for them and giving the best luck to their team, and the message therapist is just as weirded out as we are when her client's back tattoo starts moving and then suddenly she's the one flashing back with PTSD.
I love it, it kept surprising me, and now it has to go back to the library for the next lucky sod on the waiting list. Fuck yeah, short fiction.