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Orange World and Other Stories

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From the Pulitzer Finalist and universally beloved author of the New York Times best sellers Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove , a stunning new collection of short fiction that showcases Karen Russell’s extraordinary, irresistible gifts of language and imagination.
Karen Russell’s comedic genius and mesmerizing talent for creating outlandish predicaments that uncannily mirror our inner in lives is on full display in these eight exuberant, arrestingly vivid, unforgettable stories.  In“Bog Girl”, a revelatory story about first love, a young man falls in love with a two thousand year old girl that he’s extracted from a mass of peat in a Northern European bog.  In “The Prospectors,” two opportunistic young women fleeing the depression strike out for new territory, and find themselves fighting for their lives.  In the brilliant, hilarious title story, a new mother desperate to ensure her infant’s safety strikes a diabolical deal, agreeing to breastfeed the devil in exchange for his protection. The landscape in which these stories unfold is a feral, slippery, purgatorial space, bracketed by the void—yet within it Russell captures the exquisite beauty and tenderness of ordinary life. Orange World is a miracle of storytelling from a true modern master.

275 pages, Hardcover

Published May 14, 2019

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About the author

Karen Russell

61 books2,657 followers
Karen Russell graduated from Columbia University's MFA program in 2006. Her stories have been featured in The Best American Short Stories, Conjunctions, Granta, The New Yorker, Oxford American, and Zoetrope. Her first book of short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, was published in September 2006. In November 2009, she was named a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree. In June 2010, she was named a New Yorker "20 Under 40" honoree. Her first novel, Swamplandia!, was published in February 2011.

She lives in Washington Heights, New York.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 914 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
May 14, 2019

i've already read and reviewed the first two stories in this collection (The Prospectors and The Bad Graft) during 2017's december advent calendar, so i'm ahead of the game!

and you, too, can be ahead of the game, as four of the eight stories in this collection previously appeared in the new yorker. here are your links: orange world, bog girl, the prospectors, and the bad graft.

i'm not sure if the other stories can be found elsewhere, but don't go looking for them online - they are right here in this book! and even though karen russell is giving her milk away for free, you should still buy this cow - it's got a FOX on the cover! <--- sentences like that make me wonder if my brain's got one of those slow leaks in it. incidentally, the eponymous story here is about a new mother giving her milk away for free... to the devil. so, if you just read all her stories for free, you will be as big a freeloader as the devil, and is that what you want? i didn't think so. but i will give you a sip, you minor demon:

Even as a girl, Rae was a terrible negotiator. She gave anybody anything they asked of her. She owed the world; the world owned her. She never felt that she could simply take up space; no, one had to earn one’s keep here on planet Earth. As a kid, Rae’s body soundlessly absorbed the painful things that happened to it, and not even an echo of certain events escaped her lips. Sometimes she thought the problem (the gift, she’d once believed) was anatomical; she didn’t seem to have a gag reflex, so none of the secret stuff—the gushy black awful stuff—ever came out. Now it lives inside her, liquefying. Inadmissible, indigestible event. Is that what the devil is drinking?

that passage is slightly different in the new yorker version, so there - now you GOTTA read both.

i'm not going to do a play-by-play of the collection as i usually, masochistically, do, but i'll high-and-low it: The Prospectors is one of my favorite short stories ever, and The Tornado Auction was my least-favorite in the collection, but this book - like double stuf oreos, has a big delicious middle. AND A FOX ON THE COVER!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
May 30, 2019
What Russell has accomplished with these stories is hard to describe, but I'll try. She takes what often starts off as a relatively normal situation, and then pulls the stories into a surreal world. One never knows when, how or even why it happens but it does. I'm always in awe of authors who have this kind of imagination, and write so well that the reader accepts these situations as they are. Fiendish!

This is a strong work. Eight stories, all but one I liked, the first, The Prospector my favorite. There is humor, horror, unbelievable happenings accepted as normal. They are strange, but always recognizable, the emotion true. In short, very unexpected, different, and executed well.

"Look," he says dreamily, and points to where the moon is rising, bright and enormous as the door to another Galaxy, on the opposite side of the bay."

ARc from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,805 reviews2,342 followers
June 30, 2018
“O.K.,” Yvette says, breathing loudly through her nose. “That’s O.K. Weaning is a process.”

A group of lactating mothers work together to defeat a very hungry demon. Sounds bizarre, I know, but I found it to be quite a mesmerizing read.

Bet the La Leche League never had to deal with this situation.

Read it for yourself - https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
June 23, 2019
This is my second favorite Karen Russell (I will always hold St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves as one of my favorite books.) Top stories include The Bad Graft, Bog Girl: A Romance, and The Gondoliers. All of these have some kind of conflict between humans and the natural world, from infiltrating cacti to corpses to a Florida covered in toxic water.

Here is a link to The Bad Graft in the New Yorker if you want to try it out.

At ALA Midwinter, the publisher literally gave the last galley of this to the person in front of me, but then approved me to read the eARC in NetGalley. It came out May 14 from Knopf Doubleday.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,421 followers
February 2, 2021
These eight collected tales became increasingly more bizarre as they incorporated recognisable aspects of historical or modern-day life and subverted them into uncanny, Gothic creations. The prose was as otherworldly as the contents and I was seriously impressed with this anthology. Not every short story is going to appeal in any collection, but this one retained my attention and intrigue throughout.

Here are my individual rating for each story:

The Prospectors - 4.5/5 stars
The Bad Graft - 3.75/5 stars
Bog Girl: A Romance - 4/5 stars
Madame Bovary's Greyhound - 3.5/5 stars
The Tornado Auction - 4/5 stars
Black Corfu - 4/5 stars
The Gondoliers - 3.5/5 stars
Orange World - 4/5 stars
Profile Image for Cat.
830 reviews143 followers
June 3, 2019
I remember when Swamplandia! came out, and I obsessively recommended and described it to people. (I must've been such a charming dinner guest.) As far as I'm concerned, Orange World and Other Stories is the pinnacle of Russell's stylistic and imaginative achievement thus far. Each of her tales is so vivid and slightly askew. With a central fantastic conceit played out in an insistently realistic world (not necessarily our world, mind you, but a realistic one)--often melding contexts with which her readers are familiar in a phantasmagoric shorthand. For example, in one story, people breed tornadoes for the rodeo, for example, and Russell brilliantly entangles the rich idioms of catastrophic weather and bull-breeding. In another, climate change and pollution have led to a "New Florida," and teenage girls become gondoliers. The cli-fi context is constantly offset by this vaguely Venetian fantasy and then compounded in its eerie strangeness by the girls' development of echolocation. Russell is so inventive, and the psychological core of each of her stories is powerful. Perhaps my favorite is the title story, Orange World, which describes parental fear for infants (green world would be a safe one, orange is one with daily perils, red would be apocalyptic) and also the rigors (and terrors?) of breast-feeding. Though the stakes for the characters are clear, urgent, and immediate and often reflect the dilemmas and flaws of lives in our world, Russell is also playful; her stories aren't pat. Another favorite, about zombies on Corfu, takes a turn at the very end that had me laughing both because of how fitting it was and how unexpected. A true delight of a collection.
Profile Image for Paige.
24 reviews28 followers
June 12, 2019
How does she condense so much narrative into each perfectly calibrated, brightly colored story? The secret must lie in those sentences, oh my GOD, Russell’s prose is a reminder of what it is to read and enjoy a singular voice. I am so in love with this book. It’s her best so far, and that’s saying a LOT.
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,508 reviews83 followers
February 27, 2019
I have no idea how Russell comes up with these mystical and bizarre stories, but I'm glad that she does. "The Bad Graft" is the story of a Joshua Tree's spirit invading a woman's body that I can't stop thinking about; then there's "The Gondoliers", with gorgeous description of the eerily-real future of Florida, somewhat abandoned after an environmental catastrophe; and the short but bittersweet life of a dog in "Madame Bovary's Greyhound". This collection is altogether enchanting with a light seasoning of humor; certainly not to be missed.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 57 books569 followers
June 29, 2019
Having new books by Helen Phillips (The Need – read it immediately) and Karen Russell in the same year is almost more excitement than I can handle. Both writers work in the literary surreal/purgatorial/unsettling/horror/weird space and I very much love it. These stories are truly brilliant and Russell is a master storyteller (but we knew that already).
Profile Image for Bridgit.
404 reviews191 followers
May 23, 2019
This was a fascinating collection of short stories! They were all great, but The Tornado Auction was definitely my favorite: that one will stick with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Mari.
705 reviews5,089 followers
January 11, 2020

Take a look through any reviews for Karen Russell and you'll find so many people wondering how the heck she comes up with these things.

Why you may not like it: Russell's stories always start off normal enough and take a dive into the uncanny. A lot of her stories feel strange for the sake of being strange. I don't often find that I can find deeper meanings or reasons, so if a bunch of short stories about weird things doesn't sound like a good time, turn away.

Why I really liked this: The imagination! Whether it's a Florida underwater or an old man farming a tornado or a woman breastfeeding a devil, Russell's stories are always near enough reality that their strangeness leaves me off balance. Even though I think a lot of times there isn't a rhyme or a reason to the weirdness of her stories, I do think she does a fantastic job exploring what the people in her story would really do. Does that make sense? All of her characters feel authentic. They have feelings and thoughts that are very human. While I know most people can agree that Russell can dream up wild stories, I think her true super power is placing regular people right in the heart of those stories and showing us their depths in so few words.

My favorite story by far was The Tornado Auction. I listened to this on audioboo, which is read by a full cast. I highly recommend that as all of the narrators do a great job! Mark Bramhall on The Tornado Auction, though, is truly the standout. The Gondoliers, Orange World and The Bad Graft round out my favorites, which each of the rest of the stories falling in the 3-4 star range.

I will continue to read any wild story Russell comes up with next.
Profile Image for Alena.
868 reviews220 followers
May 26, 2019
I will say that Karen Russell��s imagination is. Fertile and complex place. Her short stories are incredibly varied and always unexpected. Unfortunately, I just didn’t engage with most of these. I often leave her work thinking I should like it, but alas ...
Profile Image for Audra (ouija.reads).
739 reviews253 followers
May 16, 2019
I’m not sure exactly what is going on in Karen Russell’s brain, but if I could get a little of that in my morning coffee I’m pretty sure the world would paint itself over in ultraviolet. She is on another wavelength entirely and it is a strange, brilliant, and wonderful place.

Russell is already known for her short stories, Orange World being her third collection and having had work appear in everything from The New Yorker to Zoetrope to The Best American Short Stories.

The eight stories in this new collection tend toward the speculative—one could say horror-adjacent, even (if one were me, and I am, so I did). “The Gondoliers” presents a futuristic (eerily, not too far off track) flooded Florida where a trio of sisters use echolocation to guide gondolas through the wreckage. “Black Corfu” dives into the past, detailing a doctor who desperately wants to help people but because of the color of his skin he is relegated to a lower-class job: making sure the dead stay dead. “The Tornado Auction” follows an old man with nothing left who wants to relive his glory days, the days when he used to wrangle and farm—you guessed it—tornados.

Do these stories sound strange? Yes, they do. Russell takes simple human situations, like the worries of having a new baby, and layers on a helping of the weird and uncanny: a devil that wants milk and all the mothers know about it, have been there, send in the support group. By presenting these seemingly normal ideas—the fear of growing old and irrelevant (or the fear of being young and irrelevant as in “The Prospectors”)—in a startlingly new context, Russell opens up the reader for the possibility of seeing those themes alight in their own lives.

It reminds me of Edward Scissorhands—that dark and stormy gothic mansion plopped right down in the middle of white-bread suburbia. Somehow they coexist and no one seems too weirded out about the discrepancy. Accepting the magical realism—the idea that a tree could graft its consciousness onto a girl—is just part of the fun.

For fans of Kelly Link, George Saunders, Angela Carter, and Carmen Maria Machado, the stories of Karen Russell should be a must-read.

I have my fingers crossed for a novel next from Russell, but no matter what it is, I’ll be over the moon to read her work whenever it comes.

My thanks to Knopf for sending me this one to read and review.
Profile Image for Bill Hsu.
763 reviews138 followers
September 7, 2019
I liked "The Tornado Auction" and the title story, didn't care much for the rest. I thought her two earlier collections were more interesting, with more charm and magic.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,080 reviews108 followers
February 27, 2019
This is a fantasy/supernatural/magic realism short story about a new mother and her fears. It can be nominated for this year Hugo.

This is a story of a woman, who while not exactly young is the first time mother. She is afraid to lose her child and has a deal with a devil to protect the child. She is not the only one. After the birth, the devil demand a daily breast-feeding, exhausting the mother.

It can be seen as an allusion of post-partum depression or more general, a fear that anything can hurt the child in our world. ‘Orange world’ mean the place of potential little dangers for a child, between the deadly dangerous Red world and safe Green world. The story is more about feeling than rational explanation and I guess mothers have quite different reaction to it than me, because I understand what was meant, but not truly feel it.
Profile Image for Tony.
486 reviews37 followers
July 2, 2018
Interesting enough little tale but really suffers for being too little. Well written but ultimately goes nowhere - or jumps off before the final destination. This would make a decent book though!

It's free; follow the link on the page...
Profile Image for Cris.
1,873 reviews17 followers
October 12, 2022
Have you ever read a story or in this case stories, that left wondering WTH? If you enjoyed it, this is the book for you! I’m still trying to figure out what I read!!
Profile Image for Wendy Mihell.
132 reviews5 followers
January 13, 2021
I read Orange World and Other Stories for my book club and it is certainly a mixed bag! I absolutely adored several stories (the Black Corfu and the Tornado Auction in particular) but others I found to be exceptionally dense, slow moving, pointless, and hard to get through (looking at you, Bog Girl). What I appreciated so much about Orange World is how the unique concepts presented in the book made me think deeper about what the stories were saying. I think Karen Russell did a fantastic job with the endings of her stories, in particular, and in allegorical story telling that doesn't feel heavy handed or uninteresting. This book was certainly different than any I have read before, and along with the oddities and enchanting storylines, I am sure this book will have a place at the front of my mind for a long time. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy a little injection of peculiarity now and then, along with those who like short stories in general. Three and a half stars.
Profile Image for Jason Furman.
1,175 reviews772 followers
May 24, 2019
A friend of mine ruined Karen Russell for me by telling me that she liked stories where the edges bend, a notion that captured the fantastical as a metaphor that I liked so much in, for example, in everything from Kafka stories to Her Body and Other Parties. The problem with Karen Russell, as she pointed out and immediately resonated with me, is the edges do not bend. It is all quite literal. I love just about all of the literal concepts in Orange World and Other Stories--two women visiting ghosts who died building a mountain resort, a woman who merges with a Joshua Tree, a two thousand year old girl pulled from a bog and entering modern life, a doctor who operates on the dead in the underworld, etc. But none of these go a level beyond to raise a profoundly exciting or interesting question, create a sense of mystery, and they also generally lack interesting or multi-dimensional characters. So while every story in this collection was a perfectly pleasant read, with the exception of "The Tornado Auction" (discussed below) none of them were outstanding.

I should add, I listened to most of the stories on audible and the multiple narrators were fantastic, each one with a voice perfectly adapted to the story he or she was narrating, with The Tornado Auction narrator particularly outstanding which might have contributed to my view on the story itself.

On the individual stories:

The Prospectors (3 stars): Two girls go up a ski lift, meet a bunch of ghosts. Like many ghosts stories, it does keep one's attention. But the concept is not remotely novel and it feels like a step back from the many ghost stories where the edges bend that we've been telling for over a century, see M.R. James.

The Bad Graft (4 stars): A woman gets implanted by a Joshua Tree. The concept of a part human, part plant is more interesting than a bunch of ghosts, and the exploration of what this does to her relationships makes it on the stronger end of character development for this collection.

Bog Girl: A Romance (3 stars): I would rather have read a shorter, funnier version by Simon Rich.

Madame Bovary's Greyhound (2 stars): The parallel stories of Madame Bovary and her greyhound just did not work for me, somehow seemed too silly.

The Tornado Auction (5 stars): I loved this story about an older Texan who returns to raising tornado's after a troubled life trying to maintain this way of life against a family that wanted to modernize and did not fully support him. The concept itself was great and the character's narration of it was pitch perfect.

Black Corfu (3 stars): Another strong concept, a doctor operates on people in the underworld severing their tendons, but the story was only fine.

The Gondoliers (4 stars): This one also stood out a little more for me because I liked the post-apocalyptic setting in a toxic flooded Miami with a group of sisters operating gondolas by echolocation. It was weird and the sister's interior lives were interesting.

Orange World (3 stars): A group of women who form a support group to discuss the fact that they've all been breast feeding a devil, if not the devil, was amusing enough--but another one that really just seemed like a joke concept that would have been better off explicitly limited to as such in the manner of Simon Rich.
779 reviews1 follower
May 18, 2019
it is only fair to begin my review saying I'm not a huge fan of short stories. Orange World was critiqued in a recent Wall Street Journal and given such raves I wanted to give the book a chance. Nope. Although the writing is crisp and descriptive the fantastical stories were just dumb. The first entry, The Prospectors, grabbed me immediately. Did two con women take a chair lift to a haunted mountain lodge? With Ms. Russel's description of the ride up the mountain you could feel the icy chill and trepidation of the young women. And then...the story falls apart as does the lodge. Another story, The Bad Graft, tells the tale of a young woman whose body is taken over by a Joshua tree. Meh. Bog Girl tells of a young man who unearths (unbogs) a 2,000 year old corpse and falls in love. Meh. The stories continue and although each is compelling at first quickly deteriorate into a second rate fantasy. The story telling skills are here but the stories themselves are not worthy of your time.
Profile Image for Erin.
191 reviews6 followers
July 3, 2021
B&B Book Club - Cycle 1, Book 4

2.5/5 stars but I'm downgraded it to 2 stars for the purposes of GR
What I Liked:
- The convenience of the short stories. I could easily read one in bed for the evening. 
- The stories were intriguing enough where I wished they were longer and I could explore the world building more.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Didn't know this would be creepy and ideal for Halloween season. Only one of the stories didn’t creep/gross me out. I was getting Edgar Allen Poe vibes.
- This book reminded me of English class in that I think I was supposed to get some deeper meaning from them, or be able to analyze them, but I just read on a surface level and on the surface this book did not add anything to my life. 

Favourite story - The Tornado Auction
Least favourite story - Orange World
Profile Image for Michael.
82 reviews3 followers
December 26, 2021
I loved how different and interesting each of these stories are. They have a quirk they exploit or central premise that just really pushes the boundaries with realism in fiction, some more blatantly than others. I just enjoyed that pivot with each new story, always anticipating how Russell would surprise me next. I also find these kinds of stories to be far more engaging than her more realist novel/work.
Profile Image for Alan.
1,104 reviews109 followers
October 31, 2019
—"Orange World," p.235

Karen Russell's Orange World isn't what you think it is. Oh, sure, it's good—and that you certainly ought to expect, if you've read any of Russell's previous work—but every story in this collection takes a wry and unexpected turn or two, and brings at least one trenchant observation about human nature. Russell seems to know a lot about human nature, in fact, and these tales—however far they may deviate from consensus reality—are always grounded in that awareness.

I don't even want to whisper what kind of story "The Prospectors" really is, but perhaps these two brief passages will demonstrate the range of Russell's wit and her wisdom:
"Turn-of-the-century sash windows," we'd discovered, meant "pneumonia holes."
—"The Prospectors," p.4
I felt a pang: I could see both that she was afraid of my proposal and that she could be persuaded. This is a terrible knowledge to possess about a friend.
—"The Prospectors," p.5

"The Bad Graft" begins with the terrestrial weirdness of Joshua Tree National Park, and the mundanity of an elopement.

In "Bog Girl: A Romance," Cillian (son of Jillian—parents can be so cruel) learns that there's nothing quite like the love of an older woman.

By this time I was starting to realize that Orange World was full of departures, rooted in reality but then flowering into... something else.

Now, I haven't read or seen the source material for "Madame Bovary's Greyhound," which probably accounts for my relative lack of appreciation for this story. That's my fault, obviously, though, rather than Russell's. I do like stories that retell classics from another point of view, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, or "Returned," the Kat Howard story I recently read that reimagined Eurydice and Orpheus. And, judging from my acquaintance with a coworker's pet, Russell gets the greyhound exactly right.

By the time "The Tornado Auction" blows through, Russell's not easing us in anymore—the surrealism starts with the title.
These days anybody with sense farms winds.
—"The Tornado Auction," p.117
If I had to pick a favorite from among these stories, it'd be this one. I imagined it being read aloud, in the gravelly voice of an old man who's seen too many storms come and go.

From tornado auctions, "Black Corfu" jumps across continents and backward in time, contrasting the languid movements of the dead with the far more rapid spread of rumor.
The rumor has moved into the tower of fact. Of history. It does not want to be evicted.
—"Black Corfu," p.187

The lesson was this: You fit yourself to your circumstances. Wrapped your wings tightly around your skin and settled into your niche. Go smooth, stay flat. Do your breathing in the shadows. Grow even slightly wider, or wilder, and you risk turning your home into your tomb.
—"Black Corfu," p.166

"The Gondoliers" reminded me of a much shorter story of my own—both begin with gondoliers poling their way around the drowned wrecks of coastal skyscrapers—but Russell's vision is far deeper, richer and more topical.
Writing that survives the bodies that produced it is always haunted, I guess.
—"The Gondoliers," p.202

Every end is a beginning. While I was reading Orange World, a chance acquaintance (a diminutive dental hygienist's assistant named Bailey, to be precise) asked me what "Orange World" was about. I couldn't tell her because Russell put her title story at the end and I hadn't read it yet. Now that I know, I still won't explain it, but I will say that I could easily have met these moms as they gathered near the park on Powell Boulevard:
"We mothers of Southeast Portland cannot entertain this devil any longer!"
—"Orange World," pp.260-261

Russell is a living author (and for me a local one, to boot), but her work already stands, for me, with Ray Bradbury's—she crafts similarly luminous prose (albeit not nearly as florid and with far fewer italics), and like Bradbury she ventures frequently and fearlessly into the farthest regions of the imagination.

Color me... impressed.
Profile Image for Cami Craig.
24 reviews3 followers
July 23, 2020
Disclaimer: I am an avid Karen Russell stan. In fact, I would go as far to say that she is my favorite contemporary author. There is truly no one in the literary world that does quite what she does, and quite as well. "Orange World and Other Stories" is a collection of seven parable-like stories that juxtapose the supernatural world with societal familiarity. This connection manifests differently within each separate narrative; however, the author's style, as it pertains to sentence construction, plot structure, and dialogue is distinct and riddled with tenderness. Her words resonate in the strangest of ways, that take me a good bit to truly digest. For me, what is so excellent here (and within her other novels), is how the metaphors, she bases the narratives on, are decipherable- yet, even if you weren't able to articulate what exactly the story meant- you are still prompted to feel deeply as a reaction. She prompts empathy, I suppose. If I were to ever teach contemporary fiction at a university level, I would teach on this book for the duration of an entire semester. Karen Russell paints a massive mural, full of a variety of colors, that somehow draws your attention to each single detail, while maintaining your gaze of the whole landscape.

Individual Stories Ranked:
1. The Prospectors 5/5
2. The Bad Graft 4/5
3. Bog Girl 4/5
4. Madame Bovary's Greyhound 3.5/5
5. The Tornado Auction 5/5
6. Black Corfu 3/5
7. The Gondoliers 3/5
8: Orange World 5/5
Profile Image for Becky Spratford.
Author 4 books503 followers
July 24, 2019
Three Words That Describe This Book: weird, unsettling, captivating

Let's get this out of the way....I loved this collection, but that doesn't not mean every story was perfect for me.

I am not going to rehash the plots of every story here. First, others will do that in their reviews. And Second, what happens in each story is varied and doesn't really matter. What does matter is the over all feel of these stories.

This book is the perfect example of the popular genre of "weird fiction." Here is how I define weird fiction in a piece that I am writing for NoveList with the Adult Reading Round Table:

"Although weird fiction traces its roots back to the 19th Century, the term was popularized by H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s. Today’s weird fiction is more than just an homage to a Lovecraftian aesthetic. These stories actively blend tropes common to horror, mythical fantasy, and science fiction with an intent to disorient both protagonist and reader, creating feelings that run the gamut from confusion and dread to wonder and enlightenment."

We have a list of authors that follows and Russell is on that list! And that definition reveals the appeal of her stories.

Over all the book is awesomely askew and even darker than her work normally is. Closest to horror she's been, actually. There is one straight up ghost story, one devil story, one historical zombie story and a few with a Gothic feel. Again I am not telling you which ones because 1, part of the fun here was discovering each tale for it's uniqueness in plot and atmosphere. And 2, because they really are all about how you feel reading them and the connections you make with the characters. Plot is the vehicle to get there, but not the point.

But there is more than horror here. As I said above about weird fiction- you get all of the speculative genres and a whole lot of unsettling feelings. But the unease is meant to make you take a harder look at your real world after closing the book.

One of my favorite stories was a Cli-fi tale in the style of Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy or BORNE, set in New Florida. It was lyrically beautiful despite the awful situation is was describing.

This is easily one of the best story collections I have read. I wish she'd write another novel, but if these is my consolation prize, I am still a winner.

Authors I often recommend to fans of Russell: Elizabeth McCracken, Steven Millhauser, Jeff VanderMeer, Carmen Maria Machado, Keith Donohue, Kelly Link

Newer voices whose stories I would suggest you try: Damien Angelica Walters, Kristin DeMeester, and Samanta Schweblin.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,169 reviews1,646 followers
August 27, 2019
Strange things happen to people in Karen Russell tales. In this, her third short story collection, those things include fortune-seeking young girls who end up dancing with zombies, a teenage boy who falls in love with a red-haired bog corpse, a depressed middle-aged man raising tornadoes, and in the epistolary tale, a new mother who is forced to suckle the devil.

The power of the stories is their seamless weaving of natural and supernatural, blended with everyday humor. Consider when new mother Rae tells Yvette, another woman in her mom’s group, that every night since she’s gotten home from the hospital, she’s been nursing the devil. Without batting a false eyelash, Yvette responds: “That fucking thing It’s been coming south of Powell?”

Or consider Bog Girl: A Romance, when young Cillian becomes romantically linked to a bog girl. When friends of his mother try to soothe her with the “we’ve all been there once”, her answer is priceless: “Cillian is fifteen. And the girlfriend is two thousand.”

The Bad Graft – another favorite from this collection—starts normally enough. Two young lovers impulsively leave their jobs and head off for the California deserts. All is fine until the soul of a Joshua tree possesses the girl, intertwining with her as its host. Her boyfriend begins to wonder about what exactly is going on with her.

There’s a marvelous imagination at work here, and I found myself stopping more than once and wondering how Karen Russell’s fertile mind came up with some of these ideas. But read one after the other, a certain ennui sets in: the themes begin echoing each other a little bit. The best of these are marvelous. The others are also quite good and I’m netting out at 4.5 stars.

Profile Image for Jessica Klahr.
273 reviews17 followers
May 4, 2019
This collection was almost everything I hoped it would be. Russell’s ability to construct entire worlds and a strong sense of completeness by the end is uncanny. The first three stories were my favorite, as they were prime examples of her doing what she does best: taking what starts out to appear as normal society and adding more and more weirdness almost to the brink of absurdity and then reeling it back a little. “The Bog Girl,” for instance, wouldn’t have worked as well as it did if all the surrounding characters in the story didn’t act as if it was completely normal that this high school boy was carrying around his centuries old frozen girlfriend. I also really enjoyed the slow building sense of dread in “The Prospectors” and “The Gondoliers,” another Karen Russell staple trick. I didn’t give it five stars because the three middle stories didn’t click for me like the rest did. “Madame Bovary’s Greyhound” didn’t feel like it led to anywhere and it took me three days to drudge through “Black Corfu.” It felt out of place in the collection. I would recommend this collection to anyone who liked her previous work or someone who is looking to read a little more magical realism.
Profile Image for Melora.
575 reviews142 followers
July 17, 2019
Strange, intriguing stories. “The Bad Graft” was amazingly inventive, but when I started reading “The Gondoliers,” a dystopian Florida story, I was sure it was going to be my favorite. It went too long, though, and eventually got too confusing. And then I got to the last story – “Orange World” – which is just amazing. My youngest child is now seventeen, but “Orange World” brought back all the overpowering love, devotion, and fear of early motherhood. Easily the most satisfying of the stories, and a great one with which to finish the book.
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