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St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves (2006)

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006)
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Rating
3.8 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0307263983 (ISBN13: 9780307263988)
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English
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publisher
knopf
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St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By W...
St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves (2006)

About book: Karen Russell takes a lot of the trends that are popular in literary fiction and uses them right. Her stories are full of funny, hearbreaking, and strangely unique details without usually feeling too quirky for the sake of being quirky, and her stories weave the absurd into the every day in a way that feels right, instead of jarring (except when it's supposed to be jarring, naturally). I think that I would've liked each of these stories even more if I'd read them separately though, as together in a book they begin to run together (this is often my problem with short story collections).What I mean when I say they begin to run together, is that Russell -- like most authors -- has her pet themes and ideas, and also her weaknesses, although they don't stand out much. After a certain point, a reader can become a bit burned out on stories about a child with a sibling and a single parent in Florida (I think?) doing something strange with another kid who they're not sure they like in first person present tense. Thankfully, just as that formula was beginning to drag on me, the book sent something completely different my way with "from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration," which was probably my favorite in the collection (and, as a story on its own, would probably get five stars from me, as would some others). The stories are certainly varied enough, in the end, and the shared continuity between many of them helps it feel almost like a novel with certain themes, rather than a group of stories with certain themes, but still there were one or two that I probably would have liked more had I read them all on their own in a magazine. This is, of course, how they were first published, so it isn't really a criticism of the author.Another thing that pops up when you read enough of these is that very few of them have endings. The first few times, it seems like a deliberate choice, but after awhile it starts feeling less like that and more like a sort of tic or unwillingness to end things -- it doesn't always feel like it's done for a real reason ("City of Shells" may have been the one that bothered me the most, but of course it wouldn't have bothered me if I hadn't liked the story so much). That said, again, I probably wouldn't notice if there weren't a bunch of them back to back. It does make those few that actually have endings stand out all the more.Still, though, the stories in here are great. So many interesting ideas and beautiful/strange images that (almost) never detract from the characters and their own bizarre thought processes. It really, for me, shows where the lines can blur between "literary" and "genre" fiction, because while nothing, save possibly "... Westward Migration" has any "genre" elements, the attention to detail and ideas, the need to illustrate a whole world that the reader will not know contains a lot of the drawing power here.On top of that, Russell catches the mindset of a child amazingly well. Every story here is from (or mostly from) the point of view of a younger person (I think the oldest is 15), and the leaps of logic, the intensely raw need to be liked, the importance of unimportant things, and so many other strange bits of childhood are captured perfectly. Captured in the idiosyncratic ways that separate the way a kid looks at, for example, needing to be liked, from the way that I, as an adult, look at desperately wanting to be liked. This provides some really strong emotions throughout the book, but they're always beautifully tempered by the absurd. I'm interested to see how she does at a novel.

I am very, very jealous of Karen Russell. She got to study creative writing at Columbia, she made New York Magazine list of twenty-five people to watch under the age of twenty six (and she was twenty-five when this book was published), and she also happens to be really, really talented. I bet she's really cool and her apartment is awesome and she has lots of great shoes. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (can I get that on a tshirt or something?) is a collection of short stories that mostly take place in the same island community in Florida. I hesitate to call the stories magical realism, because it doesn't seem like the correct description, but it's true that there's something magical at work in the world of these stories, and their world isn't the same as ours. In "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," a girl's sister is frequently possessed by her ghost boyfriend. "Z.Z.'s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers" is about a camp for, among other things, insomniacs, somnambulists, night terrors, incubuses, and Miscellaneous (our narrator is in this last category, and he has dreams that predict disasters that have already happened). "from Children's Reminiscences of the Western Migration" is a straightforward story of a pioneer family traveling in a wagon train, except the narrator's father is a Minotaur. In the title story, the human offspring of werewolves are rehabilitated into normal society and forced to shed their wolf characteristics. Every single story is fascinating and mysterious and full of writing so beautiful it makes me want to cry, and the magical elements are presented in such a straightforward, simple way that you don't even question it and just let the prose wash over you, like this gorgeous passage from "Haunting Olivia":"On the fifth night of our search, I see a plesiosaur. It is a megawatt behemoth, bronze and blue-white, streaking across the sea floor like a torpid comet. Watching it, I get this primordial deja vu, like I'm watching a dream return to my body. It wings towards me with a slow, avian grace. Its long neck is arched in an S-shaped curve; its lizard body is the size of Granana's carport. Each of its ghost flippers pinwheels colored light. I try to swim out of its path, but the thing's too big to avoid. That Leviathan fin, it shivers right through me. It's a light in my belly, cold and familiar. And I flash back to a snippet from school, a line from a poem or a science book, I can't remember which:There are certain prehistoric things that swim beyond extinction."But, general loveliness aside, this is ultimately an unsatisfying collection. Russel creates fantastic characters and scenarios, but she can't seem to find a good way to bring them to a close. The stories don't end, they just stop, usually without warning, and with nothing explained or learned or resolved. The only exception to this is the title story (which was also my favorite) because it's the only story in the entire collection that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. All the others, despite the skill with which they're put together, leave you with a distinctly deflated feeling. Oddly, this is actually making me more interested in reading Russell's debut novel, Swamplandia (it's a continuation of the family of alligator wrestlers she created in "Ava Wrestles the Alligator"). I'll be interested to see what Russell does when she has the length of a novel to explore her characters' weird, fascinating worlds, and also what happens when an editor forces her to write a real ending.
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Reviews
sarah
Honestly, I just can't read this anymore. There were two stories left, but I had to put it down. Individually, the stories in this volume are highly creative, heartbreaking and imaginative, but taken as a volume, the sheer similarities between all of the tales made me want to pull my hair out. Russell is obviously very talented, but I'd love to read something that isn't told from an overly precocious child's point of view, that doesn't end in medias res, and that doesn't involve strangely allegorical elements.
Megan
Whimsical, innovative, these magical-florida short stories capture that dreamy-woozy creepy gator feel of a floridian night. 'Florid' is an appropriate description: some of these stories felt overstuffed, with too many ten dollar words to slog through. Although her ambition is obvious, sometimes it got in the way of the story. That SAID, the last story (aka the title track) was darn near perfect. Too specific to be an allegory, it showed rather than told the ways in which we all end up becoming tamed.
David
I'm about half-way through this collection of stories and so far they are hilarious. As offbeat as the title suggests, but very funny.(added after finishing the book): Well, oddly enough, offbeat kind of wears thin after a while. So that, in the end, I give this collection only 3 stars. The cumulative effect of reading all these stories in a single week is a bit like being trapped in the funhouse - you emerge slightly dazed, and relieved to be back in normal territory. Although these stories were fun to read, none of them is likely to leave a lasting impression.
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