Genre : Literary Fiction
Date Published : May 14, 2019
Publisher : Knopf Publishing
For this week’s review, I changed what book I wanted to tackle so many times. First it was G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King (which, so far, is amazing, but is close to 400 pages, and I decided to put it down until I could give it my full attention). Then it was my ARC for The Beholder by Anna Bright, which also has a strong beginning, but I just couldn’t seem to focus on it. Then I stumbled upon Karen Russell’s Orange World and Other Stories on Friday, and I finished the whole thing in one day. My fixation on it was a combination of my attention span needing to focus on short stories instead of a novel, and Russell’s amazing, weird, and beautiful story telling.
Orange World is built up of eight short stories, each weirder and more fascinating than the one preceding it. One story, “Bog Girl: A Romance”, centers around a boy who happens to have a crush on a 2,000 year old girl he uncovered in a peat bog who, you know, isn’t exactly alive (exactly being the key word here). Then, in “The Bad Graft”, the soul of a Joshua Tree “leaps” into one of the characters, their souls intertwining. If none of that seems weird enough to you yet, the title story is about a young mother who agrees to breast-feed the devil. What’s even more impressive than these strange, fascinating ideas is that Russell manages to fill them with a surprising amount of emotion. After finishing each one, I found myself having to take a moment to collect my thoughts and prepare myself for whatever the next story had in store.
My favorite story of the collection was the first one, “The Prospectors”. The setting is the Great Depression, and the story follows two young women, Clara and Aubby, who think they are taking a chair lift up to the Evergreen Lodge to attend a party (and maybe steal a few things from it). Instead they find themselves at the Emerald Lodge, attending a different kind of party – one where only dead men are dancing.
“The cage was a wrought-iron skeleton, the handiwork of phantoms, but the bird, we both knew instantly, was real. It was agitating its wings in the polar air, as alive as we were. Its shadow was denser than anything in that ice palace. Its song split our eardrums. Its feathers burned into our retinas, rich with solar color, and its small body was stuffed with life.”Page 36
The prose in this story (and in all of the stories) was so, so beautiful. Russell strings words and sentences together to create such profound pictures and moments, and the relationship between Clara and Aubby was my favorite part of “The Prospectors”. You feel the love they have for each other, especially when the two of them are in grave danger at one point, and it is only the worry for the other that pulls them back into their own minds and allows them to make their escape from what surely would have been their own deaths.
What I found most amazing about this collection of tales is how much each one contained. They were love stories, horror stories, satirical stories, stories about the bizarre and the grotesque, and about how none of us are impervious to the terrors that life sometimes contains. Sometimes those terrors lodge themselves inside of us, but Russell – in her own unique and formidable way – also shows us the importance of humor in relationships, and the power it can contain, especially when it that humor is found and shared with someone else.
Author of Swamplandia, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and another collection of short stories, Karen Russell has been a big name in the literary world for a while now, but Orange World still surpassed my expectations. I couldn’t put it down, and I’m already wanting to re-read it so I can start to pick out all the details that I missed during my first read through.
9 Bog Girls out of 10