Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

I am going to admit something you mustn’t tell a soul. I was a Twilight addict. And an Anne Rice addict. To be honest, the problem extends to any other night-bumping creature of mystery ever to grace print. As a lit major-turned-librarian, this was always a source of embarrassment to me. Why couldn’t I love something more literary? Why didn’t War and Peace keep me up all night like Edward and Bella? Woe and shame, fellow readers. Woe and shame.

As a result, I tend to feel personally vindicated whenever a truly literary book comes out that features the fanged, the undead, the bizarre, or the monstrous. Enter Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

This collection of short stories opens with the hauntingly eerie tale which gives the collection its name, a love story of two vampires who learn to survive on juice from the exquisite lemons produced in a particular artisanal Italian grove. Far from being a romantic adventure tale of sparkly vampires who learn to overcome their monstrous natures and live among people, these vampires struggle greatly with their terrible urges. Most unsettlingly, their most terrifying urges seem to come from the human parts of themselves.

The confusion between the human and the monstrous continues. As the book progresses, the tales grow darker; by the end of the book the supernatural elements only serve to highlight the weirdness and unspeakable horrors lurking in the human condition. It reminds one that monster’s etymological root comes from a Latin word meaning “to show.” While monsters are often called to service in fiction to illuminate elements of human nature considered unspeakable in polite company, seldom has it been done so elegantly, and so chillingly. Russell’s language is sonorously wrought and full of wry humour – worth reading aloud to someone at bedtime, if you happen to have a connoisseur of the demented willing to listen. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is recommended reading to fans of the darker elements of David Sedaris’ work, or to anyone else craving a more literary monster.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on May 30, 2013. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

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