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St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories (Vintage Contemporaries)by Karen Russell
If Flannery O'Connor had somehow become enamored of magical realism, she might have created a short story collection such as this. Russell is evidently entranced by youth, and her various and sundry child characters are brought vividly to life in environments where seemingly anything can happen. From ghostly underwater caves to the heights of snow-capped peaks, these stories rekindle that sense of discovery and mystery that is part and parcel to our own childhood. An immensely enjoyable read for young and old alike.
I was thrilled and enamored with the pinprick subtlety of all the goodness chocked into these short stories. I read a few when they first appeared in the New Yorker, and Russell's so good that I didn't immediately catch on that some of her plot elements actually were not to be found on God's green earth (like the gigantic crab shells that a pair of young brothers rent to use as sand dune toboggans, or the slightly Uzbekistani tribe that sings the avalanche down every year). The title story, in particular, is full of brilliant ideas put into a familiar structure that manages to be the best of both worlds, reading like a historical rendering of cultural acclimations that never were. For readers who positively adore Kelly Link and Jonathan Lethem, but sometimes get the yearning to delve into a collection just a smidge less on the fantastical side, I recommend St. Lucy's Home.
This bizarre, mesmerizing debut collection got a lot of attention when it came out, for good reason. Russell has a gift for telling intricate, fantastical tales with great emotional depth. To read one of the stories in St. Lucy's is to step into a new world — a world you'll long to revisit again and again.
Synopses & Reviews
A dazzling debut, a blazingly original voice: the ten stories in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves introduce a radiant new talent.
In the collection's title story, a pack of girls raised by wolves are painstakingly reeducated by nuns. In "Haunting Olivia," two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab. In "Z.Z.'s Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers," a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to a summer camp for troubled sleepers (Cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Sleep Apneics; Cabin 3, Somnambulists ...). And "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" introduces the remarkable Bigtree Wrestling Dynasty — Grandpa Sawtooth, Chief Bigtree, and twelve-year-old Ava — proprietors of Swamplandia!, the island's #1 Gator Theme Park and Café. Ava is still mourning her mother when her father disappears, his final words to her the swamp maxim "Feed the gators, don't talk to strangers." Left to look after seventy incubating alligators and an older sister who may or may not be having sex with a succubus, Ava meets the Bird Man, and learns that when you're a kid it's often hard to tell the innocuous secrets from the ones that will kill you if you keep them.
Russell's stories are beautifully written and exuberantly imagined, but it is the emotional precision behind their wondrous surfaces that makes them unforgettable. Magically, from the spiritual wilderness and ghostly swamps of the Florida Everglades, against a backdrop of ancient lizards and disconcertingly lush plant life — in an idiom that is as arrestingly lovely as it is surreal — Karen Russell shows us who we are and how we live.
"A series of upbeat, sentimental fables, the 10 stories of Russell's debut are set in an enchanted version of North America and narrated by articulate, emotionally precocious children from dysfunctional households. Each merges the satirical spirit of George Saunders with the sophisticated whimsy of recent animated Hollywood film. In 'Ava Wrestles the Alligator,' a motherless girl, 'staying in Grandpa Sawtooth's old house until our father, Chief Bigtree, gets back from the Mainland,' struggles to understand her big sister's blooming sexuality, which seems to grow scaly and incarnate. Timothy Sparrow and Waldo Swallow Heartland, the two brothers of 'Haunting Olivia,' search for their sister's ghost near Gannon's Boat Graveyard using a pair of magic swimming goggles. In the title story, the human daughters of werewolves are socialized into polite society. Russell has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Jonathan Safron Foer ('My father, the Minotaur, is more obdurate than any man,' begins 'Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration'), and her macabre fantasies structurally evoke great Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor. If, at 24, Russell hasn't quite found a theme beyond growing up is hard to do (especially if you're a wolf girl), her assorted siblings are rendered with winning flair as they gambol, perilously and charmingly, toward adulthood. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Hey smartie, this is for your literary side! Edgy-lit lovers will adore this debut short-story collection set in imaginative venues like icebergs."Glamour
"Originality, surrealism and eccentricity...one can sense Russell's enthusiasm and playfulness, both of which she has in spades." Chicago Tribune Sunday
"[St. Lucy's] is in multifarious ways a marvelous book in the tradition of George Saunders and Katherine Dunn." New York Post
"In spare but evocative prose, the 25-year-old conjures a weird world of young misfits and ghosts in the Everglades. Girls are swept off to sea in giant crab shells and fall in love with spirits; boys have Minotaurs for fathers and incurable dream disorders that cause them to live through humanity's greatest tragedies night after night." W Magazine
"Karen Russell's startlingly original collection...features graceful and seductive prose that transports the reader into surreal and yet utterly plausible realms." Bookpage
"With this weird, wondrous debut, 25-year-old Russell blows up the aphorism 'Age equals experience.' She also suggests 'Write what you know' is similarly useless, unless she's a girl living on a Florida farm, two brothers who dive for the ghost of their dead sister, and children at a sleep-disorder camp. These stories are part Flannery O'Connor, part Gabriel García Márquez, and entirely her own." Entertainment Weekly
"Russell's first story collection is a thing of beauty....This startlingly original set if stories, which feels as though it might have been written by Lemony Snicket and Margaret Atwood, is not to be missed, and author Russell, whose fiction debuted in The New Yorker and who was chosen by New York magazine as one of '25 People to Watch Under 25,' is poised to become a literary powerhouse." Library Journal
"Karen Russell's fresh and original voice makes this a stunning collection to savor." Pages
"Russell makes her sparkling debut with these 10 curious, sophisticated and whimsical stories." OK! Weekly
"She's the real deal." Knight News
"This book is a miracle. Karen Russell is a literary mystic, channeling spectral tales that surge with feeling. A devastatingly beautiful debut by a powerful new writer." Ben Marcus
"Hallelujah! Karen Russell's work sweeps the ground from beneath your feet and replaces it with something new and wondrous, part Florida swampland, part holy water. A confident, auspicious, unforgettable debut." Gary Shteyngart, author of Abusrdistan
"Endlessly inventive, over-the-top, over-the-edge stories, all delivered in the most confident, exquisitely rambunctious manner. Fabulous fun." Joy Williams
"Unforgettable, gorgeously imaginative tales....25-year-old wunderkind Karen Russell — whose house-afire prose has already lit up the pages of Granta and The New Yorker — proves herself a mythologist of the darkest and most disturbing sort." Elle
A San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
In these ten glittering stories, debut author Karen Russell takes us to the ghostly and magical swamps of the Florida Everglades. Here wolf-like girls are reformed by nuns, a family makes their living wrestling alligators in a theme park, and little girls sail away on crab shells. Filled with stunning inventiveness and heart, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves introduces a radiant new writer.
About the Author
Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in both The New Yorker's debut fiction issue and New York magazine's list of twenty-five people to watch under the age of twenty-six. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program and is the 2005 recipient of the Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award; her fiction has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrope, Oxford American, and The New Yorker. Twenty-five years old, she lives in New York City.
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