BN.com Gift Guide

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

( 30 )

Overview

From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best.

A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and ...

See more details below
Hardcover
$17.64
BN.com price
(Save 29%)$24.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (89) from $1.99   
  • New (26) from $2.39   
  • Used (63) from $1.99   
Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.99
BN.com price

Overview

From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best.

A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.

Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.  

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
…Ms. Russell deftly combines elements of the weird and supernatural with acute psychological realism; elements of the gothic with dry, contemporary humor. From apparent influences as disparate as George Saunders, Saki, Stephen King, Carson McCullers and Joy Williams, she has fashioned a quirky, textured voice that is thoroughly her own: by turns lyrical and funny, fantastical and meditative. Vampires in the Lemon Grove shows Ms. Russell more in control of her craft than ever…In these tales [she] combines careful research (into, say, a legend, a historical episode or a tradecraft) with minutely imagined details and a wonderfully vital sleight of hand to create narratives that possess both the resonance of myth and the immediacy of something new.
The Washington Post - Elizabeth Hand
Vampires in the Lemon Grove should cement [Russell's] reputation as one of the most remarkable fantasists writing today…Two of these tales are among the best and most chilling I've read in years…[the] exquisite precision and conflation of the commonplace with the marvelous is a hallmark of Russell's prose style, infusing her work with a sense of the uncanny that keeps a reader off balance right until the last sentence.
The New York Times Book Review - Joy Williams
…Russell is no coy or mannered mistress of the freaky. Much of the pleasure in reading her comes from the wily freshness of her language and the breezy nastiness of her observations…A grim, stupendous, unfavorable magic is at work in these stories.
Publishers Weekly
There are only eight stories in Russell’s new collection, but as readers of Swamplandia! know, Russell doesn’t work small. She’s a world builder, and the stranger the better. Not that she writes fantasy, exactly: the worlds she creates live within the one we know—but sometimes they operate by different rules. Take “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979”: Nal, its main character, is your basic dejected 14-year-old boy whose brother gets the girls and whose mother has more or less given up; “Nal was a virgin. He kicked at a wet clump of sand until it exploded.” But in this beach town, the seagulls have secrets. Or consider “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” a story of high school bullying that extends a familiar plot line in eerie and convincing ways. Similarly, “The New Veterans,” in which a middle-aged masseuse works on a young Iraq War vet haunted by his buddy’s death, blurs horror, the genre, with the horror of daily life. Is the masseuse losing her mind? Is the vet? What about those ignoring the war entirely? Perhaps the answers lie in the veteran’s muddy, whole-back tattoo: “Light hops the fence of its design. So many colors go waterfalling down the man’s spine that, at first glance, she can’t make any sense of the picture.” While this story runs a little long, and the otherwise excellent “Proving Up” doesn’t need its final gothic touch, Russell’s great gift—along with her antic imagination—who else would give us a barn full of ex-presidents reincarnated as horses?—is her ability to create whole landscapes and lifetimes of strangeness within the confines of a short story. Agent: The Denise Shannon Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Library Journal
The New Yorker's 20 Under 40. Granta's Best Young American Novelists. The National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35. Russell surely has had a stellar career, straight out of the gate. Her new collection echoes the witty lusciousness of her first novel, Pulitzer finalist Swamplandia! (also a New York Times and a No. 1 Indie Next best seller and a New York Times Book Review Top Ten); the title piece features two vampires whose 100-year-old marriage is on the skids because one has developed a fear of flying. A few stories, like those about abandoned children, lose the wit and lusciousness and go all dark.
Kirkus Reviews
A consistently arresting, frequently stunning collection of eight stories. Though Russell enjoyed her breakthrough--both popular and critical--with her debut novel (Swamplandia!, 2011), she had earlier attracted notice with her short stories (St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, 2006). Here, she returns to that format with startling effect, reinforcing the uniqueness of her fiction, employing situations that are implausible, even outlandish, to illuminate the human condition. Or the vampire condition, as she does in the opening title story, where the ostensibly unthreatening narrator comes to term with immortality, love and loss, and his essential nature. Then there's "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979," about a 14-year-old boy's sexual initiation during a summer in which he is so acutely self-conscious that he barely notices that his town has been invaded by sea gulls, "gulls grouped so thickly that from a distance they looked like snowbanks." Perhaps the most ingenious of this inspired lot is "The New Veterans," with a comparatively realistic setup that finds soldiers who are returning from battle given massages to reduce stress. In one particular relationship, the elaborately tattooed back of a young veteran provides a narrative all its own, one transformed by the narrative process of the massage. The interplay has profound implications for both the masseuse and her initially reluctant patient; both discover that "healing hurts sometimes." The two shortest stories are also the slightest, though both reflect the seemingly boundless imagination of the author. "The Barn at the End of Our Term" finds a seemingly random group of former presidents in denial (at both their loss of power and the fact that they have somehow become horses), and "Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating" presents the "Food Chain Games" as the ultimate spectator sport. With the concluding "The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis," about a group of teenage bullies and an urban scarecrow, the fiction blurs all distinction between creative whimsy and moral imperative. Even more impressive than Russell's critically acclaimed novel.
From the Publisher
“Astonishing. . . . Vampires in the Lemon Grove stands out as Russell’s best book . . . with prose so alive it practically backflips off the page.” —San Francisco Chronicle 
  
“From apparent influences as disparate as George Saunders, Saki, Stephen King, Carson McCullers and Joy Williams, [Russell] has fashioned a quirky, textured voice that is thoroughly her own: lyrical and funny, fantastical and meditative.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times 
 
“One of the most innovative, inspired short-story collections in the past decade. . . . There’s absolutely no living author quite like Karen Russell.” —Michael Schaub, NPR
 
“Karen Russell’s imagination is once again on full, Technicolor, mind-bending display. . . . Russell’s stories will be seizing our imaginations—and nibbling at the edges of our nightmares—for years to come.”  —The Miami Herald 
 
“Hilarious, exquisite, first-rate.” —Joy Williams, The New York Times Book Review
 
“One of the great American writers of our young century.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR
 
“Darkly inventive, demonically driven.” —Elle
 
"No one combines the fantastical with the mundane quite like Karen Russell. . . . The stories in Vampires portray ordinary life with an otherworldly twist in a fascinating and unexpected way. And yet these haunting tales are written with such clarity and recognizable perspectives that they manage the greatest feat of all: in the surreal, we see ourselves. Jessica Gentile, Paste Magazine, #1 Best Book of the Year

“Sea deep, scary smart, richly inventive.” —More
 
“Delightfully weird.” —Esquire
 
“A writer to track and to treasure.”  —Chicago Tribune

“In another ten years Russell will be her generation’s George Saunders: the writer whose books are stolen and studied, flashed like badges, and worn to death with rereading. . . . Breathtaking.” —The Boston Globe

“One of the most remarkable fantasists writing today.” —Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

“Witty, and wise, and brimming with vitality. . . . In Russell’s stories, malice strolls with morality, horror tangos with humor, and the spirits of Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor meet with unexpected comity. . . . With a voice that could spring from an unleashed demon—or an angel on amphetamines—Russell fills this exuberant collection with life’s radiance and shadows.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Consistently arresting . . . startling . . . profound. . . . Even more impressive than Russell’s critically acclaimed novel.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Dazzlingly strange. . . . Vacillating between horror and humor, Russell’s writing recalls both George Saunders and vintage Stephen King, sometimes simultaneously.”—Time Out Chicago

“A darkly surreal treat.” —Wired.com

“Eight new cages of horror and heart and winding metamorphoses that would take a normal writer a lifetime to dream into being.” —Interview magazine

“Bone-chilling … fantasy and horror underlined with social commentary.” —People

“As Russell’s imagination soars, so does our joy in reading this collection.” —Oprah.com

“Wildly inventive. . . . Wondrously strange and moving.” —Reader’s Digest
“In these stories, familiar human emotions leap into relief against backdrops of almost Tim Burton-like weirdness. . . . [Russell’s] stories are as robust as can be.” —New York magazine

“Karen Russell’s stories defy definition. They are at once warm and sinister, a bubble bath with a shark fin lurking underneath the suds.”  —The Millions

“Clever as hell.” —BookRiot

“Wildly imaginative. . . . Gorgeous. . . . Russell has once again mapped the dark country between our everyday and more primal selves.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“A master of magical realism.” —New York Observer

“Powerful. . . . Russell pulls the rug out on our imagination, creating perplexing, surreal scenarios that bump into the common reality that most of us take for granted.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Wondrously strange and moving.” —Reader’s Digest

“Nearly flawless . . . . Russell’s best work manages to both create a fascinating, surreal world and coax meaning out of it.” —The Onion’s A.V. Club

Library Journal
Russell's (Swamplandia!) collection showcases her strengths as a wordsmith while providing the reader with dazzling, well-imagined settings. Each complex story could easily be expanded into a novel or novella, but Russell cuts right to the heart of the matter, illustrating the conflict with warm, at times whimsical prose. The titular story describes a decades-long relationship between two vampires who travel the world together searching for something to quench their "thirst." These are not your traditional Bram Stoker creatures of the night nor your modern Twilight vampires, but something of Russell's own creation. Similarly, "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979" and Dust Bowl-era "Proving Up" are not typical young-boy-coming-of-age stories. Russell's original style can sometimes turn a bit silly, such as in the story told from the point of view of a horse that is the reincarnation of U.S. President Rutherford Hayes, but her aim is true. VERDICT This story collection will be a welcome installment for Russell's fans, and is sure to win her many new ones as well.—Kate Gray, Worcester, MA
The Barnes & Noble Review
Crazy ideas are necessary to the creative process. Even a titan like Nathaniel Hawthorne had them, filling his "American Notebooks" with often hilariously ill-conceived writing prompts: "All the dead that had ever been drowned in a certain lake to arise," he wrote, followed by an even less promising idea: "The history of a small lake from the first, till it was drained." There were also "[a] very fanciful person, when dead, to have his burial in a cloud" and "[s]ome moderns to build a fire on Ararat with the remnants of the ark." Not last but arguably least: "A person to catch fire-flies, and try to kindle his household fire with them. It would be symbolical of something." Never mind what. Invent first, ask questions later.

Much of Karen Russell's early fiction seemed to emanate from this firefly impulse, this urge to indulge flights of whimsy and then to invest them with meaning after the fact. She has been widely praised for her creativity, but many stories in her debut collection — a talking Minotaur pulls a covered wagon westward; a boy uses a Zamboni to attack his philandering father and a female Yeti mascot — were more grating than enchanting. Zany plots, goofy names, exclamation points, and forced pathos were on the wane in her novel Swamplandia!, but they were still insistent enough to make a serious reader gasp when the book nearly took the 2012 Pulitzer.

Now comes Vampires in the Lemon Grove, a collection that is, Pulitzer committee be damned, Russell's first good book. It is an excellent book. It has its moments of overreach, its grating excesses, but it is the book we were promised in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Swamplandia! It earns its darkness, amounting to an update on E.T.A. Hoffman's tales, and a number of its stories elicit emotion and reflection in a way Russell's previous efforts signally didn't. Real boys and girls, men and women, have taken the place of storybook characters.

Stephen King loved Swamplandia! He will feel the deepest pangs of envy over "Reeling for the Empire," the second story in Vampires, in which patriotic Japanese girls are tricked into drinking a tea that makes them produce silk from their bodies. If the implicit allegory about prostitution and industrial exploitation is straightforward, the atmospherics and gory details are anything but. The climax, at once ghoulish and triumphant, puts the reader in mind of the kaidan genre introduced to Western readers by Lafcadio Hearn. It's a strange compliment, but a genuine one, to say that Russell's imagination really is capable of inducing nausea and terror.

Like "From Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration" — the Minotaur story mentioned at the beginning of this review — Russell's "Proving Up," previously published as "The Hox River Window" in Zoetrope: All-Story, seems an explicit nod to the prairie lit of Willa Cather. Both stories focus on the struggles of pioneer children facing dangers beyond their years, but "Proving Up" is more mature, subtle, and frightening than Russell's earlier westward gaze.

In the story, it is a prerequisite for land ownership under the Homestead Act that a sod building have a glass window; since windows are hard to come by, a frontier community shares a single pane in order to trick a federal "Inspector" who seems to be more bogeyman than reality. Russell depicts the rounds of a boy tasked with delivering the pane to his neighbors, and finally the boy's encounter with a mad frontiersman who may or may not be the pane's rightful owner — who may, indeed, be a ghost.

There are two other really great, anthology-worthy stories in the collection, and neither is the one with "vampires" in the title. "The New Veterans," a risky foray into war writing, tells the tale of a traumatized vet whose tattoo changes with the progress of his therapy — and changes his therapist. It might have been a slight Bradbury knockoff, but is instead a measured, responsible use of the uncanny mode, of which Russell is becoming a master. Memory, empathy, and the true (thorny) meaning of getting well come in for a scrutiny that is rare in modern fiction. "The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis," a ghastly allegory about the wages of psychological violence, is both a tribute to Hoffman's "Olympia" and an affecting condemnation of the most commonplace bullying.

There are also disappointments in Vampires. The title story is unmemorable and freighted with higher-order clichés — "a tan that won't fade until I die (which I never will)" summoned a furious cringe, as did the "Texan [tourist] with a big strawberry red updo," bat tangled in her hair, screaming "TAKE THE GODDAMN PICTURE." "Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating" is a protracted, unfunny joke at the expense of sports fans that should have died in the McSweeney's slush pile. And the less said of "The Barn at the End of Our Term," in which United States presidents are reincarnated as horses, the better. It was clearly intended as an exercise in metaphysics, but that doesn't mean we have to treat it with respect.

' All told, though, Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a startling success. Willa Cather wrote in O Pioneers! that "[t]here is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon." Vampires in the Lemon Grove demonstrates the inverse of this principle: There is often a good deal of the adult brewing in artists who haven't had to grow up soon enough. A literary congregation that genuflects before mannered whimsy and overwrought creativity has long praised Russell for being naïve beyond her years. But there is a spark in this writer more substantial than a jar of fireflies, and it's finally starting to burn like a house on fire. Unlike most precocious talents, Ms. Russell's best work is very much ahead of her.

A writer living in southern Connecticut, Stefan Beck has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun, The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion, and other publications. He also writes a food blog, The Poor Mouth, which can be found at www.stefanbeckonline.com/tpm/.

Reviewer: Stefan Beck

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307957238
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/12/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 391,727
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia! (2011), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Philadelphia. 

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Stories
By Karen Russell

Knopf

Copyright © 2013 Karen Russell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307957238

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

In October, the men and women of Sorrento harvest the primo­fiore, or “first flowering fruit,” the most succulent lemons; in March, the yellow bianchetti ripen, followed in June by the green verdelli. In every season you can find me sitting at my bench, watching them fall. Only one or two lemons tumble from the branches each hour, but I’ve been sitting here so long their falls seem contiguous, close as raindrops. My wife has no patience for this sort of meditation. “Jesus Christ, Clyde,” she says. “You need a hobby.”

   Most people mistake me for a small, kindly Italian grand­father, a nonno. I have an old nonno’s coloring, the dark walnut stain peculiar to southern Italians, a tan that won’t fade until I die (which I never will). I wear a neat periwinkle shirt, a canvas sunhat, black suspenders that sag at my chest. My loafers are battered but always polished. The few visitors to the lemon grove who notice me smile blankly into my raisin face and catch the whiff of some sort of tragedy; they whisper that I am a widower, or an old man who has survived his children. They never guess that I am a vampire.

   Santa Francesca’s Lemon Grove, where I spend my days and nights, was part of a Jesuit convent in the 1800s. Today it’s privately owned by the Alberti family, the prices are excessive, and the locals know to buy their lemons elsewhere. In summers a teenage girl named Fila mans a wooden stall at the back of the grove. She’s painfully thin, with heavy black bangs. I can tell by the careful way she saves the best lemons for me, slyly kicking them under my bench, that she knows I am a monster. Sometimes she’ll smile vacantly in my direction, but she never gives me any trouble. And because of her benevolent indifference to me, I feel a swell of love for the girl.

   Fila makes the lemonade and monitors the hot dog machine, watching the meat rotate on wire spigots. I’m fascinated by this machine. The Italian name for it translates as “carousel of beef.” Who would have guessed at such a device two hundred years ago? Back then we were all preoccupied with visions of apocalypse; Santa Francesca, the foundress of this very grove, gouged out her eyes while dictating premonitions of fire. What a shame, I often think, that she foresaw only the end times, never hot dogs.

A sign posted just outside the grove reads:

CIGERETTE PIE

HEAT DOGS

GRANITE DRINKS

Santa Francesca’s Limonata—­

THE MOST REFRISHING DRANK ON THE PLENET!!

   Every day, tourists from Wales and Germany and America are ferried over from cruise ships to the base of these cliffs. They ride the funicular up here to visit the grove, to eat “heat dogs” with speckly brown mustard and sip lemon ices. They snap photographs of the Alberti brothers, Benny and Luciano, teenage twins who cling to the trees’ wooden supports and make a grudging show of harvesting lemons, who spear each other with trowels and refer to the tourist women as “vaginas” in Italian slang. “Buona sera, vaginas!” they cry from the trees. I think the tourists are getting stupider. None of them speak Italian anymore, and these new women seem deaf to aggression. Often I fantasize about flashing my fangs at the brothers, just to keep them in line.

   As I said, the tourists usually ignore me; perhaps it’s the dominoes. A few years back, I bought a battered red set from Benny, a prop piece, and this makes me invisible, sufficiently banal to be hidden in plain sight. I have no real interest in the game; I mostly stack the pieces into little houses and corrals.

   At sunset, the tourists all around begin to shout. “Look! Up there!” It’s time for the path of I Pipistrelli Impazziti—­the descent of the bats.

   They flow from cliffs that glow like pale chalk, expelled from caves in the seeming billions. Their drop is steep and vertical, a black hail. Sometimes a change in weather sucks a bat beyond the lemon trees and into the turquoise sea. It’s three hundred feet to the lemon grove, six hundred feet to the churning foam of the Tyrrhenian. At the precipice, they soar upward and crash around the green tops of the trees.

   “Oh!” the tourists shriek, delighted, ducking their heads.

   Up close, the bats’ spread wings are alien membranes—­fragile, like something internal flipped out. The waning sun washes their bodies a dusky red. They have wrinkled black faces, these bats, tiny, like gargoyles or angry grandfathers. They have teeth like mine.

   Tonight, one of the tourists, a Texan lady with a big strawberry red updo, has successfully captured a bat in her hair, simultaneously crying real tears and howling: “TAKE THE GODDAMN PICTURE, Sarah!”

   I stare ahead at a fixed point above the trees and light a cigarette. My bent spine goes rigid. Mortal terror always trips some old wire that leaves me sad and irritable. It will be whole minutes now before everybody stops screaming.



The moon is a muted shade of orange. Twin disks of light burn in the sky and the sea. I scan the darker indents in the skyline, the cloudless spots that I know to be caves. I check my watch again. It’s eight o’clock, and all the bats have disappeared into the interior branches. Where is Magreb? My fangs are throbbing, but I won’t start without her.

   I once pictured time as a black magnifying glass and myself as a microscopic flightless insect trapped in that circle of night. But then Magreb came along, and eternity ceased to frighten me. Suddenly each moment followed its antecedent in a neat chain, moments we filled with each other.

   I watch a single bat falling from the cliffs, dropping like a stone: headfirst, motionless, dizzying to witness.

   Pull up.

   I close my eyes. I press my palms flat against the picnic table and tense the muscles of my neck.

   Pull UP. I tense until my temples pulse, until little black-and-red stars flutter behind my eyelids.

   “You can look now.”

   Magreb is sitting on the bench, blinking her bright pumpkin eyes. “You weren’t even watching. If you saw me coming down, you’d know you have nothing to worry about.” I try to smile at her and find I can’t. My own eyes feel like ice cubes.

   “It’s stupid to go so fast.” I don’t look at her. “That easterly could knock you over the rocks.”

   “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m an excellent flier.”

   She’s right. Magreb can shape-­shift midair, much more smoothly than I ever could. Even back in the 1850s, when I used to transmute into a bat two, three times a night, my metamorphosis was a shy, halting process.

   “Look!” she says, triumphant, mocking. “You’re still trembling!”

   I look down at my hands, angry to realize it’s true.

   Magreb roots through the tall, black blades of grass. “It’s late, Clyde; where’s my lemon?”

   I pluck a soft, round lemon from the grass, a summer moon, and hand it to her. The verdelli I have chosen is perfect, flawless. She looks at it with distaste and makes a big show of brushing off a marching ribbon of ants.

“A toast!” I say.

“A toast,” Magreb replies, with the rote enthusiasm of a Christian saying grace. We lift the lemons and swing them to our faces. We plunge our fangs, piercing the skin, and emit a long, united hiss: “Aaah!”



Over the years, Magreb and I have tried everything—­fangs in apples, fangs in rubber balls. We have lived everywhere: Tunis, Laos, Cincinnati, Salamanca. We spent our honeymoon hopping continents, hunting liquid chimeras: mint tea in Fez, coconut slurries in Oahu, jet-black coffee in Bogotá, jackal’s milk in Dakar, Cherry Coke floats in rural Alabama, a thousand beverages purported to have magical quenching properties. We went thirsty in every region of the globe before finding our oasis here, in the blue boot of Italy, at this dead nun’s lemonade stand. It’s only these lemons that give us any relief.

   When we first landed in Sorrento I was skeptical. The pitcher of lemonade we ordered looked cloudy and adulterated. Sugar clumped at the bottom. I took a gulp, and a whole small lemon lodged in my mouth; there is no word sufficiently lovely for the first taste, the first feeling of my fangs in that lemon. It was bracingly sour, with a delicate hint of ocean salt. After an initial prickling—­a sort of chemical effervescence along my gums—­a soothing blankness traveled from the tip of each fang to my fevered brain. These lemons are a vampire’s analgesic. If you have been thirsty for a long time, if you have been suffering, then the absence of those two feelings—­however brief—­becomes a kind of heaven. I breathed deeply through my nostrils. My throbbing fangs were still.

By daybreak, the numbness had begun to wear off. The lemons relieve our thirst without ending it, like a drink we can hold in our mouths but never swallow. Eventually the original hunger returns. I have tried to be very good, very correct and conscientious about not confusing this original hunger with the thing I feel for Magreb.



I can’t joke about my early years on the blood, can’t even think about them without guilt and acidic embarrassment. Unlike Magreb, who has never had a sip of the stuff, I listened to the village gossips and believed every rumor, internalized every report of corrupted bodies and boiled blood. Vampires were the favorite undead of the Enlightenment, and as a young boy I aped the diction and mannerisms I read about in books: Vlad the Impaler, Count Heinrich the Despoiler, Goethe’s bloodsucking bride of Corinth. I eavesdropped on the terrified prayers of an old woman in a cemetery, begging God to protect her from . . . me. I felt a dislocation then, a spreading numbness, as if I were invisible or already dead. After that, I did only what the stories suggested, beginning with that old woman’s blood. I slept in coffins, in black cedar boxes, and woke every night with a fierce headache. I was famished, perennially dizzy. I had unspeakable dreams about the sun.

   In practice I was no suave viscount, just a teenager in a red velvet cape, awkward and voracious. I wanted to touch the edges of my life—­the same instinct, I think, that inspires young mortals to flip tractors and enlist in foreign wars. One night I skulked into a late Mass with some vague plan to defeat eternity. At the back of the nave, I tossed my mousy curls, rolled my eyes heavenward, and then plunged my entire arm into the bronze pail of holy water. Death would be painful, probably, but I didn’t care about pain. I wanted to overturn my sentence. It was working; I could feel the burn beginning to spread. Actually, it was more like an itch, but I was sure the burning would start any second. I slid into a pew, snug in my misery, and waited for my body to turn to ash.

   By sunrise, I’d developed a rash between my eyebrows, a little late-flowering acne, but was otherwise fine, and I understood I truly was immortal. At that moment I yielded all discrimination; I bit anyone kind or slow enough to let me get close: men, women, even some older boys and girls. The littlest children I left alone, very proud at the time of this one scruple. I’d read stories about Hungarian vampirs who drank the blood of orphan girls, and mentioned this to Magreb early on, hoping to impress her with my decency. Not children! she wept.

   She wept for a day and a half.

   Our first date was in Cementerio de Colón, if I can call a chance meeting between headstones a date. I had been stalking her, following her swishing hips as she took a shortcut through the cemetery grass. She wore her hair in a low, snaky braid that was coming unraveled. When I was near enough to touch her trailing ribbon she whipped around. “Are you following me?” she asked, annoyed, not scared. She regarded my face with the contempt of a woman confronting the town drunk. “Oh,” she said, “your teeth . . .”

   And then she grinned. Magreb was the first and only other vampire I’d ever met. We bared our fangs over a tombstone and recognized each other. There is a loneliness that must be particular to monsters, I think, the feeling that each is the only child of a species. And now that loneliness was over.

   Our first date lasted all night. Magreb’s talk seemed to lunge forward like a train without a conductor; I suspect even she didn’t know what she was saying. I certainly wasn’t paying attention, staring dopily at her fangs, and then I heard her ask: “So, when did you figure out that the blood does nothing?” 

   At the time of this conversation, I was edging on 130. I had never gone a day since early childhood without drinking several pints of blood. The blood does nothing? My forehead burned and burned.

   “Didn’t you think it suspicious that you had a heartbeat?” she asked me. “That you had a reflection in water?” 

   When I didn’t answer, Magreb went on, “Every time I saw my own face in a mirror, I knew I wasn’t any of those ridiculous things, a bloodsucker, a sanguina. You know?”

   “Sure,” I said, nodding. For me, mirrors had the opposite effect: I saw a mouth ringed in black blood. I saw the pale son of the villagers’ fears.



Those initial days with Magreb nearly undid me. At first my euphoria was sharp and blinding, all my thoughts spooling into a single blue thread of relief—The blood does nothing! I don’t have to drink the blood!— but when that subsided, I found I had nothing left. If we didn’t have to drink the blood, then what on earth were these fangs for?

   Sometimes I think she preferred me then: I was like her own child, raw and amazed. We smashed my coffin with an ax and spent the night at a hotel. I lay there wide-eyed in the big bed, my heart thudding like a fish tail against the floor of a boat.

   “You’re really sure?” I whispered to her. “I don’t have to sleep in a coffin? I don’t have to sleep through the day?” She had already drifted off.

   A few months later, she suggested a picnic.

   “But the sun.”

   Magreb shook her head. “You poor thing, believing all that garbage.”

   By this time we’d found a dirt cellar in which to live in Western Australia, where the sun burned through the clouds like dining lace. That sun ate lakes, rising out of dead volcanoes at dawn, triple the size of a harvest moon and skull- white, a grass-scorcher. Go ahead, try to walk into that sun when you’ve been told your bones are tinder.

   I stared at the warped planks of the trapdoor above us, the copper ladder that led rung by rung to the bright world beyond. Time fell away from me and I was a child again, afraid, afraid. Magreb rested her hand on the small of my back. “You can do it,” she said, nudging me gently. I took a deep breath and hunched my shoulders, my scalp grazing the cellar door, my hair soaked through with sweat. I focused my thoughts to still the tremors, lest my fangs slice the inside of my mouth, and turned my face away from Magreb.

   “Go on.”

   I pushed up and felt the wood give way. Light exploded through the cellar. My pupils shrank to dots.

   Outside, the whole world was on fire. Mute explosions rocked the scrubby forest, motes of light burning like silent rockets. The sun fell through the eucalyptus and Australian pines in bright red bars. I pulled myself out onto my belly, balled up in the soil, and screamed for mercy until I’d exhausted myself. Then I opened one watery eye and took a long look around. The sun wasn’t fatal! It was just uncomfortable, making my eyes itch and water and inducing a sneezing attack.

   After that, and for the whole of our next thirty years together, I watched the auroral colors and waited to feel anything but terror. Fingers of light spread across the gray sea toward me, and I couldn’t see these colors as beautiful. The sky I lived under was a hideous, lethal mix of orange and pink, a physical deformity. By the 1950s we were living in a Cincinnati suburb; and as the day’s first light hit the kitchen windows, I’d press my face against the
linoleum and gibber my terror into the cracks.

   “Sooo,” Magreb would say, “I can tell you’re not a morning person.” Then she’d sit on the porch swing and rock with me, patting my hand.

   “What’s wrong, Clyde?”

   I shook my head. This was a new sadness, difficult to express. My bloodlust was undiminished but now the blood wouldn’t fix it.

   “It never fixed it,” Magreb reminded me, and I wished she would please stop talking.

   That cluster of years was a very confusing period. Mostly I felt grateful, aboveground feelings. I was in love. For a vampire, my life was very normal. Instead of stalking prostitutes, I went on long bicycle rides with Magreb. We visited botanical gardens and rowed in boats. In a short time, my face had gone from lithium white to the color of milky coffee. Yet sometimes, especially at high noon, I’d study Magreb’s face with a hot, illogical hatred, each pore opening up to swallow me. You’ve ruined my life, I’d think. To correct for her power over my mind I tried to fantasize about mortal women, their wild eyes and bare swan necks; I couldn’t do it, not anymore—an eternity of vague female smiles
eclipsed by Magreb’s tiny razor fangs. Two gray tabs against her lower lip.

   But like I said, I was mostly happy. I was making a kind of progress.

   One night, children wearing necklaces of garlic bulbs arrived giggling at our door. It was Halloween; they were vampire hunters. The smell of garlic blasted through the mail slot, along with their voices: “Trick or treat!” In the old days, I would have cowered from these children. I would have run downstairs to barricade myself in my coffin. But that night, I pulled on an undershirt and opened the door. I stood in a square of green light in my boxer shorts hefting a bag of Tootsie Pops, a small victory over the old fear.

   “Mister, you okay?”

   I blinked down at a little blond child and then saw that my two hands were shaking violently, soundlessly, like old friends wishing not to burden me with their troubles. I dropped the candies into the children’s bags, thinking: You small mortals don’t realize the power of your stories.



We were downing strawberry velvet cocktails on the Seine when something inside me changed. Thirty years. Eleven thousand dawns. That’s how long it took for me to believe the sun wouldn’t kill me.

   “Want to go see a museum or something? We’re in Paris, after all.”

   “Okay.”

   We walked over a busy pedestrian bridge in a flood of light, and my heart was in my throat. Without any discussion, I understood that Magreb was my wife.

   Because I love her, my hunger pangs have gradually mellowed into a comfortable despair. Sometimes I think of us as two holes cleaved together, two twin hungers. Our bellies growl at each other like companionable dogs. I love the sound, assuring me we’re equals in our thirst. We bump our fangs and feel like we’re coming up against the same hard truth.

   Human marriages amuse me: the brevity of the commitment and all the ceremony that surrounds it, the calla lilies, the veiled mother-in-laws like lilac spiders, the tears and earnest toasts. Till death do us part! Easy. These mortal couples need only keep each other in sight for fifty, sixty years.

   Often I wonder to what extent a mortal’s love grows from the bedrock of his or her foreknowledge of death, love coiling like a green stem out of that blankness in a way I’ll never quite understand. And lately I’ve been having a terrible thought: Our love affair will end before the world does.

   One day, without any preamble, Magreb flew up to the caves. She called over her furry, muscled shoulder that she just wanted to sleep for a while.

   “What? Wait! What’s wrong?”

   I’d caught her mid-shift, halfway between a wife and a bat.

   “Don’t be so sensitive, Clyde! I’m just tired of this century, so very tired, maybe it’s the heat? I think I need a little rest . . .”

   I assumed this was an experiment, like my cape, an old habit to which she was returning, and from the clumsy, ambivalent way she crashed around on the wind I understood I was supposed to follow her. Well, too bad. Magreb likes to say she freed me, disabused me of the old stories, but I gave up more than I intended: I can’t shudder myself out of this old man’s body. I can’t fly anymore.



Fila and I are alone. I press my dry lips together and shove dominoes around the table; they buckle like the cars of a tiny train.

   “More lemonade, nonno?” She smiles. She leans from her waist and boldly touches my right fang, a thin string of hanging drool. “Looks like you’re thirsty.”

   “Please,” I gesture at the bench. “Have a seat.”

   Fila is seventeen now and has known about me for some time. She’s toying with the idea of telling her boss, weighing the sentence within her like a bullet in a gun: There is a vampire in our grove.

   “You don’t believe me, Signore Alberti?” she’ll say, before taking him by the wrist and leading him to this bench, and I’ll choose that moment to rise up and bite him in his hog-thick neck. “Right through his stupid tie!” she says with a grin.

   But this is just idle fantasy, she assures me. Fila is content to let me alone. “You remind me of my nonno,” she says approvingly, “you look very Italian.”

   In fact, she wants to help me hide here. It gives her a warm feeling to do so, like helping her own fierce nonno do up the small buttons of his trousers, now too intricate a maneuver for his palsied hands. She worries about me, too. And she should: lately I’ve gotten sloppy, incontinent about my secrets. I’ve stopped polishing my shoes; I let the tip of one fang hang over my pink lip. “You must be more careful,” she reprimands. “There are tourists everywhere.”

   I study her neck as she says this, her head rolling with the natural expressiveness of a girl. She checks to see if I am watching her collarbone, and I let her see that I am. I feel like a threat again.



Last night I went on a rampage. On my seventh lemon I found with a sort of drowsy despair that I couldn’t stop. I crawled around on all fours looking for the last bianchettis in the dewy grass: soft with rot, mildewed, sun-shriveled, blackened. Lemon skin bulging with tiny cellophane-green worms. Dirt smells, rain smells, all swirled through with the tart sting of decay.

   In the morning, Magreb steps around the wreckage and doesn’t say a word.

   “I came up with a new name,” I say, hoping to distract her. “Brandolino. What do you think?”

   I have spent the last several years trying to choose an Italian name, and every day that I remain Clyde feels like a defeat. Our names are relics of the places we’ve been. “Clyde” is a souvenir from the California Gold Rush. I was callow and blood-crazed back then, and I saw my echo in the freckly youths panning along the Sacramento River. I used the name as a kind of bait. “Clyde” sounded innocuous, like someone a boy might get a malt beer with or follow into the woods.

   Magreb chose her name in the Atlas Mountains for its etymology, the root word ghuroob, which means “to set” or “to be hidden.” “That’s what we’re looking for,” she tells me. “The setting place. Some final answer.” She won’t change her name until we find it.

   She takes a lemon from her mouth, slides it down the length of her fangs, and places its shriveled core on the picnic table. When she finally speaks, her voice is so low the words are almost unintelligible.

   “The lemons aren’t working, Clyde.”

   But the lemons have never worked. At best, they give us eight hours of peace. We aren’t talking about the lemons.

   “How long?”

   “Longer than I’ve let on. I’m sorry.”

   “Well, maybe it’s this crop. Those Alberti boys haven’t been fertilizing properly, maybe the primofiore will turn out better.”

   Magreb fixes me with one fish-bright eye. “Clyde, I think it’s time for us to go.”

   Wind blows the leaves apart. Lemons wink like a firmament of yellow stars, slowly ripening, and I can see the other, truer night behind them.

   “Go where?” Our marriage, as I conceive it, is a commitment to starve together. “We’ve been resting here for decades. I think it’s time . . . what is that thing?”

   I have been preparing a present for Magreb, for our anniversary, a “cave” of scavenged materials—newspaper and bottle glass and wooden beams from the lemon tree supports—so that she can sleep down here with me. I’ve smashed dozens of bottles of fruity beer to make stalactites. Looking at it now, though, I see the cave is very small. It looks like an umbrella mauled by a dog.

   “That thing?” I say. “That’s nothing. I think it’s part of the hot dog machine.”

   “Jesus. Did it catch on fire?”

   “Yes. The girl threw it out yesterday.”

   “Clyde.” Magreb shakes her head. “We never meant to stay here forever, did we? That was never the plan.”

   “I didn’t know we had a plan,” I snap. “What if we’ve outlived our food supply? What if there’s nothing left for us to find?”

   “You don’t really believe that.”

   “Why can’t you just be grateful? Why can’t you be happy and admit defeat? Look at what we’ve found here!” I grab a lemon and wave it in her face.

   “Good night, Clyde.”

   I watch my wife fly up into the watery dawn, and again I feel the awful tension. In the flats of my feet, in my knobbed spine. Love has infected me with a muscular superstition that one body can do the work of another.

   I consider taking the funicular, the ultimate degradation—worse than the dominoes, worse than an eternity of sucking cut lemons. All day I watch the cars ascend, and I’m reminded of those American fools who accompany their wives to the beach but refuse to wear bathing suits. I’ve seen them by the harbor, sulking in their trousers, panting through menthol cigarettes and pacing the dock while the women sea-bathe. They pretend they don’t mind when sweat darkens the armpits of their suits. When their wives swim out and leave them. When their wives are just a splash in the distance.

   Tickets for the funicular are twenty lire. I sit at the bench and count as the cars go by.



That evening, I take Magreb on a date. I haven’t left the lemon grove in upward of two years, and blood roars in my ears as I stand and clutch at her like an old man. We’re going to the Thursday night show at an antique theater in a castle in the center of town. I want her to see that I’m happy to travel with her, so long as our destination is within walking distance.

   A teenage usher in a vintage red jacket with puffed sleeves escorts us to our seats, his biceps manacled in clouds, threads loosening from the badge on his chest. I am jealous of the name there: GUGLIELMO.

   The movie’s title is already scrolling across the black screen: SOMETHING CLANDESTINE IS HAPPENING IN THE CORN!

   Magreb snorts. “That’s a pretty lousy name for a horror movie. It sounds like a student film.”

   “Here’s your ticket,” I say. “I didn’t make the title up.”

   It’s a vampire movie set in the Dust Bowl. Magreb expects a comedy, but the Dracula actor fills me with the sadness of an old photo album. An Okie has unwittingly fallen in love with the monster, whom she’s mistaken for a rich European creditor eager to pay off the mortgage on her family’s farm.

   “That Okie,” says Magreb, “is an idiot.”

   I turn my head miserably and there’s Fila, sitting two rows in front of us with a greasy young man. Benny Alberti. Her white neck is bent to the left, Benny’s lips affixed to it as she impassively sips a soda.

   “Poor thing,” Magreb whispers, indicating the pigtailed actress. “She thinks he’s going to save her.”

   Dracula shows his fangs, and the Okie flees through a cornfield. Cornstalks smack her face. “Help!” she screams to a sky full of crows. “He’s not actually from Europe!”

   There is no music, only the girl’s breath and the fwap-fwap-fwap of the off-screen fan blades. Dracula’s mouth hangs wide as a sewer grate. His cape is curiously still.

   The movie picture is frozen. The fwapping is emanating from the projection booth; it rises to a grinding r-r-r, followed by lyrical Italian cussing and silence and finally a tidal sigh. Magreb shifts in her seat.

   “Let’s wait,” I say, seized with empathy for these two still figures on the screen, mutely pleading for repair. “They’ll fix it.”

   People begin to file out of the theater, first in twos and threes and then in droves. “I’m tired, Clyde.”

   “Don’t you want to know what happens?” My voice is more frantic than I intend.

   “I already know what happens.”

   “Don’t you leave now, Magreb. I’m telling you, they’re going to fix it. If you leave now, that’s it for us, I’ll never . . .”

   Her voice is beautiful, like gravel underfoot: “I’m going to the caves.”



I’m alone in the theater. When I turn to exit, the picture is still frozen, the Okie’s blue dress floating over windless corn, Dracula’s mouth a hole in his white greasepaint.

   Outside I see Fila standing in a clot of her friends, lit by the marquee. These kids wear too much makeup and clothes that move like colored oils. They all look rained on. I scowl at them and they scowl back, and then Fila crosses to me.

   “Hey, you,” she says, grinning, breathless, so very close to my face. “Are you stalking somebody?”

   My throat tightens.

   “Guys!” Her eyes gleam. “Guys, come over and meet the vampire.”
   
   But the kids are gone.

   “Well! Some friends,” she says, then winks. “Leaving me alone, defenseless . . .”

   “You want the old vampire to bite you, eh?” I hiss. “You want a story for your friends?”

   Fila laughs. Her horror is a round, genuine thing, bouncing in both her black eyes. She smells like hard water and glycerin. The hum of her young life all around me makes it difficult to think. A bat filters my thoughts, opens its trembling lampshade wings. 

   Magreb
. She’ll want to hear about this. How ridiculous, at my age, to find myself down this alley with a young girl: Fila powdering her neck, doing her hair up with little temptress pins, yanking me behind this Dumpster. “Can you imagine”—Magreb will laugh—“a teenager goading you to attack her! You’re still a menace, Clyde.”

   I stare vacantly at a pale mole above the girl’s collarbone. Magreb, I think again, and I smile, and the smile feels like a muzzle stretched taut against my teeth. It seems my hand has tightened on the girl’s wrist, and I realize with surprise, as if from a great distance, that she is twisting away.
“Hey, nonno, come on now, what are you— ”


 
The girl’s head lolls against my shoulder like a sleepy child’s, then swings forward in a rag- doll circle. The starlight is white mercury compared to her blotted-out eyes. There’s a dark stain on my periwinkle shirt, and one suspender has snapped. I sit Fila’s body against the alley wall, watch it dim and stiffen. Spidery graffiti weaves over the brick behind her, and I scan for some answer contained there: GIOVANNA & FABIANO. VAFFANCULO! VAI IN CULO.

   A scabby-furred creature, our only witness, arches its orange back against the Dumpster. If not for the lock I would ease the girl inside. I would climb in with her and let the red stench fill my nostrils, let the flies crawl into the red corners of my eyes. I am a monster again.

   I ransack Fila’s pockets and find the key to the funicular office, careful not to look at her face. Then I’m walking, running for the lemon grove. I jimmy my way into the control room and turn the silver key, relieved to hear the engine roar to life. Locked, locked, every funicular car is locked, but then I find one with thick tape in Xs over a busted door. I dash after it and pull myself onto the cushion, quickly, because the cars are already moving. Even now, after what I’ve done, I am still unable to fly, still imprisoned in my wretched nonno’s body, reduced to using the mortals’ machinery to carry me up to find my wife. The box jounces and trembles. The chain pulls me into the heavens link by link.

   My lips are soon chapped; I stare through a crack in the glass window. The box swings wildly in the wind. The sky is a deep blue vacuum. I can still smell the girl in the folds of my clothes.


 
The cave system at the top of the cliffs is vaster than I expected; and with their grandfather faces tucked away, the bats are anonymous as stones.

   I walk beneath a chandelier of furry bodies, heartbeats wrapped in wings the color of rose petals or corn silk. Breath ripples through each of them, a tiny life in its translucent envelope.

   “Magreb?”

   Is she up here?


   Has she left me?


   (I will never find another vampire.)


   I double back to the moonlit entrance that leads to the open air of the cliffs, the funicular cars. When I find Magreb, I’ll beg her to tell me what she dreams up here. I’ll tell her my waking dreams in the lemon grove: The mortal men and women floating serenely by in balloons freighted with the ballast of their deaths. Millions of balloons ride over a wide ocean, lives darkening the sky. Death is a dense powder cinched inside tiny sandbags, and in the dream I am given to understand that instead of a sandbag I have Magreb.

   I make the bats’ descent in a cable car with no wings to spread, knocked around by the wind with a force that feels personal. I struggle to hold the door shut and look for the green speck of our grove.

   The box is plunging now, far too quickly. It swings wide, and the igneous surface of the mountain fills the left window. The tufa shines like water, like a black, heat- bubbled river. For a dizzying instant I expect the rock to seep through the glass.

   Each swing takes me higher than the last, a grinding pendulum that approaches a full revolution around the cable. I’m on my hands and knees on the car floor, seasick in the high air, pressing my face against the floor grate. I can see stars or boats burning there, and also a ribbon of white, a widening fissure. Air gushes through the cracks in the glass box. With a lurch of surprise, I realize that I could die.


 
What does Magreb see, if she is watching? Is she waking from a nightmare to see the line snap, the glass box plummet? From her inverted vantage, dangling from the roof of the cave, does the car seem to be sucked upward, rushing not toward the sea but into another sort of sky? To a black mouth open and foaming with stars?

   I like to picture my wife like this: Magreb shuts her thin eyelids tighter. She digs her claws into the rock. Little clouds of dust plume around her toes as she swings upside down. She feels something growing inside her, a dreadful suspicion. It is solid, this new thing, it is the opposite of hunger. She’s emerging from a dream of distant thunder, rumbling and loose. Something has happened tonight that she thought impossible. In the morning, she will want to tell me about it.

Continues...

Excerpted from Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell Copyright © 2013 by Karen Russell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss the relationship between Clyde and Magreb, the two vampires in the title story whose hundred-year marriage is tested when one of them develops a fear of flying. Do you think the author believes they have a good marriage? What is the impact of Clyde’s inability to transmute? Consider this quote from the beginning of the story: “I once pictured time as a black magnifying glass and myself as a microscopic flightless insect trapped in that circle of night. But then Magreb came along, and eternity ceased to frighten me.” What is the author saying here about mortal—and immortal—love? 

2. How might “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” be read as a parable of appetite and addiction? Note the linguistic forms in which the author couches references to the vampires’ need for blood. 

3. “I blinked down at a little blond child and then saw that my two hands were shaking violently, soundlessly, like old friends wishing not to burden me with their troubles. I dropped the candies into the children’s bags, thinking: You small mortals don’t realize the power of your stories” (p. 13). What is the author saying here about the nature of truth, the power of myth, and the role of storytelling in shaping identity?

4. In “Reeling for the Empire,” Tooka asks, “Are we monsters now?” (p. 31) In the title story, Clyde reflects, “Magreb was the first and only other vampire I’d ever met. We bared our fangs over a tombstone and recognized each other.  There is a loneliness that must be particular to monsters, I think, the feeling that each is the only child of a species.  And now that loneliness was over.” (p. 9) How are Clyde and Magreb similar to the reelers? What do these two stories have in common thematically? What do you think the author might be trying to say here about exile and community, shape-shifting and transformation?

5. Look at the passage in “Reeling for the Empire” where Kitsune describes the phenomenon of the thread: “Here is the final miracle, I say: our silk comes out of us in colors. There is no longer any need to dye it. There is no other silk like it on the world market, boasts the Agent.…Nobody has ever guessed her own color correctly—Hoshi predicted hers would be peach and it was blue; Nishi thought pink, got hazel. I would bet my entire five-yen advance that mine would be light gray, like my cat’s fur. But then I woke and pushed the swollen webbing of my thumb and a sprig of green came out. On my day zero, in the middle of my terror, I was surprised into a laugh: here was a translucent green I swore I’d never seen before anywhere in nature, and yet I knew it as my own on sight” (pp. 31–32). How do you account for the joyfulness of this discovery? What do you think the author is trying to communicate about the nature of identity, and of our essential selves?

6. Discuss Kitsune’s transformation [PE1] on p. 39. What does it mean that her thread changes from green to black?

7. “Reeling” ends with a violent, dramatic twist. What happens? How did this make you feel? Is this a happy ending or a sad one?  

8. What do the seagulls represent to Nal in “The Seagull Army descends on Strong Beach, 1979,” and how does their symbolism change throughout the story? Initially Nal takes them for his conscience—later, for omens. Discuss Nal’s nightmare, and how the seagulls relate to Nal’s understanding of the past, present, and future. Why does he consider the seagulls “cosmic scavengers” (p. 75), and what do you think that means?

9. Many of the stories in Russell’s collection pivot on fantasies: Beverly’s fantasy of magically healing Sgt. Derek Zeiger in “The New Veterans”; Dougbert’s faith in Team Krill in “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating,” and a commitment to rooting for the underdog that destroys his marriage and causes him to run the risk of botulism, cannibalism, and frostbite; the Zegner family’s dream of proving up on their claim and becoming homesteaders even if it kills them; the dead presidents’  fantasies of running for reelection and their inability to relinquish their dreams of power despite being reincarnated as horses in “The Barn at the End of Our Term.” In what way might these fantasies be considered uniquely American? 

10. A number of the stories in this collection orbit the themes of regret and atonement, and how to deal with wrongdoing and events that evoke anguish and guilt: Kitsune, Larry Rubio, and Sgt. Derek Zeiger are all grappling, to varying degrees, with issues of culpability. In all of these cases, memory plays a vital role in the rituals of atonement. Discuss.

11. In “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” a group of boys stumble on a mutilated  scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment. There are powerfully sinister undertones here, and it could certainly be read as Karen Russell’s first horror story. But there are also themes of expiation and redemption in “Eric Mutis.”  In what ways can it be read as a hopeful story?

12. Many of the stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove are intensely comic, with absurd and magical  predicaments—vampires in love; post-presidential horses; talismanic objects; miraculous tattoos that can transform the past; girls that turn into silkworms.  Yet as readers we can see ourselves in each of these stories. No matter how outlandish the situation, the emotionand the vulnerability that Russell captures is recognizably our own. Which stories moved you most, or spoke to you most powerfully? Why?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 30 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(11)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(5)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2013

    Without throwing the baby out with the bath water, I'd have to s

    Without throwing the baby out with the bath water, I'd have to say that only a few of these stories were very good. Some ran all over the place, others were too back-story heavy which is not good practice in short stories because the conclusions were very abrupt. After the first two wonderful stories, i was repeatedly disappointed.  

    9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 15, 2013

    I just love this book.

    I just love this book.

    4 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Highly Recommended - this is excellent

    Karen Russell is just amazing! Where in the world does she get these strange, socially meaningful tales? The 'Lemon Grove' short stories are masterfully told, delightfully poignant, and heartbreakingly close to your heart. But WARNING: Every story will leave you with a giant "WHAT?" at the end. That's why I've come to love young author Karen Russell...the question(s) she leaves us.

    If you want to really engage another reality, without any sci-fi nonsense, this is your book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2013

    Anonyomous

    Thanks!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2013

    Don't waste your time.

    Having read the review I thought that I would enjoy this book. It looked interesting and I liked the fact that it was compiled of several short stories. However after reading four of them I didn't bother with the rest because the ones that I did read had no point to them and quite frankly were boring.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 9, 2013

    Unless you are inclined to plow through dark and decidedly depre

    Unless you are inclined to plow through dark and decidedly depressing stories, I recommend that you not go near this book. I p\got through 4-5 of the stories and decided I could not read a single page more. It was really dark, totally depressing, and frankly unworthy of my time and energy. I was expecting far better prose - it's not that a depressing topic can't be engrossing - but this was really just macabre and awful. I contrast it with, for example, The Cellist of Sarajevo, which was unbelievably sad, but utterly compelling and engrossing. This was a flat zero for me.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Love it

    2 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 7, 2013

    Excellent Prose. Title story was my least favorite. Wish this

    Excellent Prose. Title story was my least favorite. Wish this author could rewrite some of the recent "hits" - interesting stories but poor writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2013

    Incredible

    Stunning short stories. Awesome book cover.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    Great stories!!

    It Karen Russell. Imaginative, surprising, extremelu well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 8, 2013

    Just Okay.

    Short stories are not really my cup of tea. Actually found that I couldn't finish this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    Highly recommended - you don't want to miss this!

    Russell is a brilliant writer. She sucks me in and I can't put the book down. Her stories may be utterly bizarre, I don't want to spoil anything by give always, but they stick with me long after I've read them. She taps into some fundamental truths and has a magical way of sharing her wisdom. I am insanely jealous of her skill. But ever so grateful I picked up her book. I look forward to reading anything else she has written or will write in the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 8, 2013

    No, thanks.

    I just couldn't get into this one. I read a couple of chapters and quit.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2013

    Raine

    Good

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 17, 2014

    Some of the stories are very interesting and leave you want more

    Some of the stories are very interesting and leave you want more. Very creepy at times.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014

    Don't understand the great reviews

    Couldn't even finish it. It was ridiculous.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 16, 2014

    Disappointed

    vampires in the lemon grove was a very disappointing read for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    &star

    Name (she-cat): Rosetail<br>
    Name (tom): Pinefur<br>
    Clans: different<br>
    Type: R.ape<br>
    Do they know each other?: no pinefur is a warrior and Rosetail is a medicine cat pinefur r.apes Rosetail

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2013

    On The Border: OC Fic, Hawkstep X Raingrove

    Hawkstep POV: <p>I slipped quietly out of camp and looked over my shoulder. No one was following! I smiled and raced along the shore, haring past ShadowClan I paused beside RiverClan and sat waiting. I smiled broader as a gray tabby she-cat picked her way carefully towards me, her blue eyes brightened whn she spotted me and she hurried. I met her, nuzzling her lovingly,"Hello, Raingrove." I purr. "How are you, Hawkstep?" She asks. "Just wonderful." I reply and suddenly catch a strange scent tht made my member tingle. She was in heat! Lust made my mind fuzzy but I shook free of it as we lay on our backs to star gaze. "Those ones look like a cat running across the moor!" She purred, pointing the constellation out. I nod and point out another one,"That one looks like a river." She nuzzled my cheek. "Have you ever thought about having kits?" I froze and then smiled. "With you, yes." She purred and lay with her belly on mine, I met her eyes and smiled love and lust swamping my mind again. She brushed her moist core against my unsheathing member softly and moaned, closing her eyes. I stood and gently nosed her onto her back, she spread her hind legs and I stood over her. I knew what to do more or less and lowered my muzzle sniffing and then licking her center to test her. She gently moved her hips against my face and I purred, sticking my tongue deeper in her, lapping at her walls she moaned louder and pulled my head closer with her paws and I happily obeyed. She rolled her hips against my face faster and harder I could feel her start to tighten around my tongue and I pulled my tongue out. She whimpered in displeasure but I quickly filled her with something far more satisfying, my thick, barbed pen<__>is. She gasped as I thrust in and then I pulled out an then thrust in again, getting myself further inside her warm moist pu<__>ssy. She mewled in pain and I paused, using all the will I had to let her get used to me being inside of her. She finally nodded to tell me to start agains and I pulled out until only the tip was inside of her d then etered before starting a rythym, grinding my hips against her's and groaning with pleasure, my barbs lightly scraped her insides and she dug her claws in my shoulders now returning my humping we moaned together and I licked her face lovingly and then licked her neck and chest still rolling my hips in a circular motion against her's. I hit her spot and she gasped and bucked harder against me, I repeatedly hit her sweet spot and my long member began to tingle with the sensation of cu<__>mming. I squirted pre into her and we now made a squelching sound with each thrust into her. I let out a gutteral sound and hit her indes hard as my co<__>ck pulsating wildly spurting cu<__>m deep in her, sure to get her pregnant. She yowed in pleasure d her insides tightened around me, milking all of my seed from my still spasming love meat. I collapsed on top of her. "That was fun." I purred, licking her chin. "That was very fun." She giggled. <p>Comment and rate! <br>-Holly

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2013

    J

    H

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)