In Karen Russell’s debut novel Swamplandia! (2011), loss propels the story forward. The book, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, follows a family that runs an alligator-wrestling theme park on an island in the Florida Everglades. Mostly narrated by Ava, a 13-year-old girl who has spent her whole life in the park, Swamplandia! is about the interplay of fantasy—Ava’s older sister quite believably elopes with a ghost—and being grounded in cold reality: the death of the family matriarch, the park’s star performer, holds the story together while unraveling the family at its center.
Picking up on the more hallucinatory thread of her novel and running with it in her second collection of short stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Knopf, 256 pp., $24.95), Ms. Russell proves herself to be a master of magical realism. Here she introduces us to a vampire couple who suck on lemons to soothe their aching fangs, girls transformed into silkworms, a flock of seagulls that steal objects from the future, dead presidents reincarnated as horses, Antarctic tailgating and a tattoo that comes to life. Read More