Monday, July 23, 2012

Karen Russell's Short Stories

I finished reading Karen Russell's short story collection St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves. For the longest time, I could not get into the stories. I would find one or two interesting things – a brilliant sentence, a remarkable imagery, an intersting exposition. But overall, I could not get in. It seemed to me that the writer has not paid enough attention to the world-building, the characters are interesting, but there was something off. I appreciated how Russell built most of her stories around these children who are misfits, but it also seemed to me she has fallen back upon a kind of easy magical realism. The non-realist elements did not seem to be organic to the worlds of the stories, but came across more like something the writer had gotten involved in because she was reluctant to do the sociological, historical research that strictly realist stories would need. Then, I came upon the story “St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves,” (the last one in the collection) and it blew me off! It was that good. I loved how she had experimented with the “we” voiced, while inserting within that “we” three individuals (an “I”, and two “she”s), all of whom occupy three different places within the story. Also, this is the only story in the collection where moving beyond the realism actually attributes something more to the story. While reading it, I kept thinking of colonial education systems, but more specifically Native American boarding schools. Whatever it is, I could not shade off the complicated histories of race and racism while reading this story, and I think, exploring race through tropes of human-animality ascribes upon the story an additional dimension which a purely realist depiction would have probably missed, or would have seemed repetitive. I am looking forward to reading her novel Swamplandia now.  

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