Darkness in Exotic Settings: A Review of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Happy Easter everyone!

This weekend I am elbows deep in making an Easter holiday for my son.  An egg hunt, coloring eggs, and a nice dinner with my sister and her family fits the bill nicely.

So, I really do want to write short fiction.  I want to write anything that I love writing and will love having written.  My lovely late high school librarian once said to me that “a short story is like a bubble in time” when I was telling her about my writing and she was encouraging it, back when I was 16 years old and I had put enough time into my writing so something good occasionally burst forth of what felt like its own volition…not often enough for my teenage taste but enough to get noticed.

But to write short fiction I needed to dig into my shelves and actually read it. My one short story a week has actually been going well, especially since I have a short horror story podcast, Pseudopod, full of fill ins if I have gotten to my longest commute on Wednesday and the prospect of reading something short that week is looking dim.

I started with Karen Russell.  Ms. Russell was born on my due date (I had already been on Earth a whopping ten days when my due date passed) and then proceeded to snatch up all the writing prowess and skill that I would have wanted for myself. I bought St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves long ago when I was not really buying books in paper form.  I had to have it.  The draw was too great.

I have read a lot of writing advice over the last 18 months or so since I decided to go back to focusing on writing since I had my graduate degree and at least one child, and the advice of writing short fiction varies widely.  Some people say that there needs to be a clear beginning, middle, and end, with a clear resolution, and some talk about it as a moment in time.  I have always chosen the moment in time for meagre short story career, and so does Ms. Russell.

Karen has worked out a bit of a system with the ten short stories in this book.  An exotic setting, a tropical island, a swamp, a frozen wasteland, a retirement community on the sea, etc, paired with some emotionally neglected and unsupervised kids and some darkness of delinquency and inappropriate romantic feelings.  The inappropriate romances are not developed to the point of making me uncomfortable, but some of the delinquency makes me edgy, especially in The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime where they want to trick and steal hatching baby sea turtles and abuse an equally unsupervised adult man with mental retardation.  Too much vulnerability in that one for me to stomach at times.

Her main characters are children but these are not children’s stories.  Where there are adults, the adults too have their own shadows, vulnerabilities, and sadness.

Settings and sadness and feelings that the characters don’t understand and can’t explain. Anthony Doerr did awesome setting with supernatural in The Shell Collector but he did not have as much vulnerability of his characters.  Karen is more moments in time, Anthony’s stories take place over longer time periods.

What Karen excels at is sharp and concise description and gorgeous, poignant language, much like Anthony.  She has funny and sarcastic reflections on the world and a way of describing things that you have never thought of before but is completely true.  She spins her settings into vivid and real places that enhance the tension and the appeal of her moment in time plots.  Like the back cover claims, they are inventive stories that are full of heart.

I have read Swamplandia! which the first story in this collection is the beginnings of, and it is very much in the same vein of an exotic vacation spot, neglect, sadness, lack of supervision, and inappropriate relationships.  I am jealous that she was a Pulitzer finalist in 2012 for the book when I was just working on producing a child.

I have not read her other collection that I own, Vampires in the Lemon Grove  and I will be interested to see if she uses the same elements or if she will move in a different direction or add another element to her work.  I have not read Sleep Donation and I can’t see anything else on Amazon that she has done, and I wonder what the gap is about.  I hope it means that she is spinning another bunch of tales or a novel for me.

Shares and comments! Shares and comment!  The Easter Bunny would want it to be so.

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