This is not surprising. You may remember my crush on “The Barn at the End of Our Term”, a story that is not in this collection, but which involves Rutherford B. Hayes in horse form. And I’ve discovered I had, in fact, read a powerful story written by Russell before, in the New Yorker, called “Haunting Olivia.” It was in the 2005 Debut Fiction issue (and it’s actually online, here).
The stories in this book are — at least the ones I’ve read so far — not so conventional. Which is nice. If I could read two books of unconventional stories every summer, I would be happy. (This summer, I am happy.) I read the first story in St. Lucy’s Home — “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” — on Friday night. When I finished, I wanted very much to share the dreamlike world of the story, and so I turned to Billy. But then I realized that I couldn’t possibly explain this story’s mood, setting, and strangeness in a way that would make sense. It’s a swirling, not-always-pleasant other world that Russell creates. After some stories I feel as though I have been reading through a haze, trying to see her imagined setting clearly.
These stories hard to describe. I want to use words like fantastical or label this book with a term like magical realism. But that wouldn’t be right. Then I want to use words like weird, odd, different. But maybe those aren’t right either.
So far the stories star children and teens. Adults are absent in one way or another. Feelings of loss or sadness or isolation seep through even when you don’t expect them to. The stories are on the long side, 20-30 pages.
My favorite story in this collection might be “Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers.” Maybe it’s because I have trouble sleeping myself, but the idea of a summer camp for kids with sleep disorders … I love it.