A dazzling debut, a blazingly original voice: the 10 stories in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves introduce a radiant new talent.
In the collection’s title story, a pack of girls raised by wolves are painstakingly reeducated by nuns. In “Haunting Olivia”, two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab. In “Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers”, a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to a summer camp for troubled sleepers (Cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Sleep Apneics; Cabin 3, Somnambulists . . . ). “And Ava Wrestles the Alligator” introduces the remarkable Bigtree Wrestling Dynasty: Grandpa Sawtooth, Chief Bigtree, and 12-year-old Ava, proprietors of Swamplandia!, the island’s number-one Gator Theme Park and Cafe, Ava is still mourning her mother when her father disappears, his final words to her the swamp maxim “Feed the gators, don’t talk to strangers.” Left to look after 70 incubating alligators and an older sister who may or may not be having sex with a succubus, Ava meets the Bird Man, and learns that when you’re a kid it’s often hard to tell the innocuous secrets from the ones that will kill you if you keep them.
Russell’s stories are beautifully written and exuberantly imagined, but it is the emotional precision behind their wondrous surfaces that makes them unforgettable. Magically, from the spiritual wilderness and ghostly swamps of the Florida Everglades, against a backdrop of ancient lizards and disconcertingly lush plant life, in an idiom that is as arrestingly lovely as it is surreal, Karen Russell shows us who we are and how we live.
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