256 pages; Knopf
Eleven former presidents are reincarnated as horses. An imprisoned girl transforms into a silkworm caterpillar, shooting thread from her fingertips. A centuries-old vampire realizes he is too anxious to fly. Each story in Karen Russell's new book, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is more inventive than the last, juxtaposing mundane human experiences and profound questions about consciousness, love, and mortality, with a hint of the supernatural.
In "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979," 14-year-old Nal harbors a crush on his older brother's girlfriend, but Russell makes this otherwise ordinary plot her own by introducing a bird that leads Nal to a hidden stash of items that have influenced his past and promise to shape his future. "Proving Up" is the tale of Miles Zegner, a young son of 19th-century homesteaders living on the Nebraska plains whose family is brought to vivid life by Russell's haunting language. When Miles sees visions of his deceased sisters rising from a plot of grass, he observes that they are "glowing taller and taller. White legs twining moonward, like swords of wheat. They sprout after dark." In many of the stories, characters confront their mortal limitations—some in physical cages, others metaphorically. As Russell's imagination soars, so does our joy in reading this collection.
— Stephanie Palumbo