Thursday, May 30, 2019

Karen Russell's Orange World and Other Stories

Her heart is breaking not to be with her daughter, just as Rae's is breaking not to be with her mother and her grandmother. The breaking is continuous - in the ouroboros of caretaking, guilt and love and fear and love continuously swallow one another.

Unbelievably, my first time reading Karen Russell. I see why she's so popular, though: dramatic, movie-like plots with narrative stylings reminiscent of Byatt, Waters, and Kingsolver.

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
Knopf, 2019
Digital arc by publisher/library copy

There are 8 stories in this volume. Only one I was truly meh about ("Black Corfu"); the rest were interesting to captivating. "The Prospectors" was like The Shining meets Carnivale -- it was creepy and moody and atmospheric, a historical horror that I could have easily inhaled as a full length novel. Two of Russell's stories take place in a world touched by extreme weather: "The Tornado Auction", in which tornadoes are farm raised like livestock (dangerous, dangerous livestock) and "The Gondoliers", in which catastrophic climate change transformed Florida and four of its inhabitants. There could be sanctimonious judgment but Russell stays away from that; she is loving in her description of place, fully immersed in the world of her characters.

"Madame Bovary's Greyhound" is about precisely that. If I wasn't a dog owner, I'm not sure the story would have hit me as hard but having a puppy now, I was aching for that sad, sweet greyhound. "The Bad Graft" is a sci-fi horror film my wife would uh-dore; "The Bog Girl: A Romance" would be a weird indie rom com neither of us would get.

Russell's titular story struck me the most intensely; it's the story of a pregnant woman and all the anxiety that entails. According to her new parents class, red world is one that is hazardous to babies. Orange world is negligent -- the world most of us operate in. Our heroine Rae makes a deal with, she thinks, the devil, to ensure her baby's safety. As things shake out, it's not THE devil, but A devil she's bound herself to, and it's sad and comedic in equal part. I was reminded, frankly, of my post-partum depression and the way it enslaved me to a certain kind of thinking and behavior.

I can't compare this volume to her other work but as a first time dive, it's wonderful. Escapist, smart, moving, brief -- perfect reading.

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