Vampires in the Lemon Grove

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Title: Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Author: Karen Russell
Published: February 2013
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 8 CDs
Procurement: public library
Relationship to author: none

This was yet another audio book I wanted to listen to while driving to Virginia. There are a few problems with how I started Russell’s collection: first, driving and reading directions and listening can be challenging, especially when the writer creates unpredictable story lines. Secondly, I didn’t know this was a story collection. Call me an idiot if you will, but I didn’t I assumed that because Russell’s previous book, Swamplandia! was a novel, I thought this would be too. That was stupid of me and caused some difficulty.

The first story, “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” is narrated by Arthur Morey. He uses a Transylvanian sort of accent to give it the vampire vibe, but this can also make the story difficult to understand. There were parts near the end of when I absolutely lost track of the setting. I think he was in a cave? The story was interesting–two vampires, the only one the other has ever encountered, who aren’t really affected by or need what you would expect, like sun, garlic, stakes, coffins, and even blood. When I think about it, why are they vampires? Why aren’t these simply immortals? Is this story an examination of marriage, how husbands and wives can grow tired of one another if they are together for so long?

The second story started immediately after the first. This was definitely confusing; no music, no sound, no nothing to indicate that one story stopped and another started. I thought I was listening to a second section told from a different character’s point of view. Again, my fault, but I loathe audio books that don’t signal the end of a story. Readers need to mentally prepare to take in the next tale. Give us a breather. Sheesh.

Story number 2 is “Reeling for the Empire,” read by Joy Osmanski. Her narration was easy to understand, and the story was definitely creepy. Women who are given a special drink begin to produce silk–after their fathers or husbands or brothers have sold them (basically into silk slavery) to a strange man. This story had an effective arc and made sense while still being highly unusual.

“The Seagull Arm Descends on Strong Beach, 1979” is the 3rd story, narrated by Kaleo Griffith. For some reason, the narration was in American English while the voices of the characters were in Australian accents. I don’t know what this means, unless Strong Beach is famous and I am totally clueless (some of my history proves that I am). I really am not sure what was going on in this story. I was confused by the things the boy found and wasn’t sure what it meant. When the story ended, I was surprised. There seemed to be no arc to follow. I felt like someone tripped me, watching me tumble in the dirt, and then moved on.

“Proving Up,” read by Jesse Bernstein, was the last story I listened to. It was so confusing with no real need to be. There is repeated mention of a window that needs to be taken to a distant neighbor. The story is set on a new frontier where residents must prove they can survive and have a family in exchange for owning the land on which they settled free and clear from the government.What is it with the window? I kept asking. The narrator mentions sisters who have died and a mother who is so terribly skinny. Some people have died out there in the middle of no where. The window. The window. Don’t break it. Bring it back as soon as possible. Stall the inspector. There are ghosts everywhere in this story, from the narrator’s dead sisters to a strange man who challenges the narrator. You can read this collection yourself to find out what the window is about, but I’ll warn you that it’s not a big deal and that there was no need for Russell to keep it secret. All she did was make it difficult to care about what was going on.

After “Proving Up,” I abandoned Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I grew tired of incomplete stories and abstract ideas with no real rhyme or reason to their existence. There were times when I did enjoy a story, but because the ideas are unusual, I would want to hear a sentence again, no easy task with a CD player in your car. If you are going to check out Vampires in the Lemon Grove, I suggest you do it on paper, though that won’t change the unfinished nature of Russell’s tales.

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