Throbbing Fangs, Tattoos, Unbearable Relief

by Louise Erdrich
Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I keep trying to read new books, but the last few sentences of The Son by Phillip Meyer (see earlier post) keep haunting me. Fortunately I've got Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell's book of short stories. I keep going back to my favorite stories and now have read them several times. They are mysteriously satisfying, better with each reading. The New Veterans is one of my favorites -- a down to earth woman delivers healing body work to a veteran. His tattoo, a portrait of a terrible moment in time is an unfixed world into which she enters. The title story, told by an ancient and lonely vampire who looks like an Italian grandfather, is a melancholy love story, a suspense narrative, and a meditation on absurdity and time. Russell's writing is always deliciously physical -- when the vampires sink their fangs into the wonderful lemons of Sorrento the mournful throbbing of their fangs subsides enough to quiet their spirits. When I read that paragraph my teeth hurt. The vampire falls off the wagon -- into miserable lemon rampage, then worse. And his graceful bat wife . . . but you'll have to read it yourself.

Perhaps the most powerfully visceral of these stories is Reeling for the Empire. Young Japanese women are lured away from their families and changed into silkworms -- their bodies continually bloating with thread, relief found only by having the thread drawn out. Unbearable slavish appetites, unbearable enslaved relief -- what I love about Russell's work is her deadpan delivery of the most outrageously imaginative psychological truth. Her humor is brilliant, her language strangely sweet, the most fantastic of her characters utterly believable.

Reeling for the Empire pretty much describes a writer's life except instead of mulberry leaves I'm eating my healthy standby snack -- baby carrots and Ranch dressing. Actually, the mulberry leaves sound better . . .