Day 481: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Cover for St. Lucy'sDifficulties of youth and adolescence are the themes of Karen Russell’s unusual collection of short stories. Many of them are set in the Florida Everglades among bizarre and tacky theme parks or tourist destinations, where children sled through the sand on crab shells or visit enormous conches.

The first story, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” provides an introduction to the two sisters who are more fully developed in Russell’s later novel Swamplandia! Abandoned momentarily at their Everglades theme park home, Ava has a murky encounter with the Bird Man and tries to rescue her sister Osceola from her ghost lover. That story is expanded in the novel, which I really enjoyed.

Although certainly all are unusual, some of the stories are more bizarre than others. In “from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration,” a 19th century family makes a difficult crossing west, their wagon pulled by their father, the Minotaur. In the title story, human children of werewolves are sent away to be raised by nuns so that they can have a better life than their parents.

Russell’s stories are at once peculiar and oddly touching, full of young misfits who are even more out of place than all adolescents think they are. At times funny, such as the descriptions of the wolf-girls’ canine behavior when trying to adjust to their new school, the stories all reverberate with longing. Russell’s writing is brilliantly fierce and original, sparked by her own peculiar vision.

A few of the stories felt to me as if the author was just trying to think of the strangest ideas possible, and she almost lost me in “Lady Yeti and the Palace of Artificial Snows.” But ultimately, I enjoyed the stories, although I prefer the more developed characters and plot of Swamplandia!

8 thoughts on “Day 481: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

  1. Cecilia March 5, 2014 / 1:19 pm

    Is this an adult book or YA? Was just curious.

    • whatmeread March 5, 2014 / 1:41 pm

      I don’t think it’s really clear. It could be both. Most of the main characters are either older children or teens, so if that’s an indication . . .

  2. Cecilia March 5, 2014 / 1:20 pm

    Oops, never mind. I just saw your YA tag at the bottom of your post.

    Anyway, it does sound like an unusual collection of stories.

    • whatmeread March 5, 2014 / 1:42 pm

      Yes, but I also put it under Contemporary Fiction. I know that she has published her short stories in places like the New Yorker, so I think it works for both.

  3. Rory March 5, 2014 / 3:19 pm

    I’ve been curious about this one since I enjoyed Swamplandia. I think I’ll add it to my long list TBR stack (as opposed to immediate).

    • whatmeread March 5, 2014 / 3:22 pm

      I definitely liked Swamplandia better, especially compared to the story about Ada and Osceola, where the impact is lessened, and you don’t exactly understand what’s going on.

  4. Alina (literaryvittles) March 5, 2014 / 3:41 pm

    Karen Russell! I feel like a celebrity-by-association. ha! not really, but she went to Northwestern University and graduated just a couple of years ahead of me. Anyway, I’m going to read Swamplandia! this year and I bet I will really like it.

    • whatmeread March 5, 2014 / 3:59 pm

      It’s very weird, but I liked it a lot.

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