St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves

Karen Russell's debut collection of short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves, is a fascinating trip into tales where, believe it or not, the twisted realities seem to surpass even the creations of wild, young imaginations.

There is something captivating (slash haunting?) about childhood -- a belief, real or imagined, that things were simpler... or at least that we were all less aware of the complications lurking around us. This is, of course, a construct of adulthood as we give our younger selves less credit, because children are startlingly observant. The children in Russell's stories are very clearly not unaware -- they see everything and know things are wrong even if they cannot put names or motives to the adult betrayals and issues. Their stories may all possess elements of magical realism, but it's the very true, wounded emotions that infuse the page which make them live and breathe.

The stories themselves are not connected to each other, but they share a general sense of magical realism that imbues the Floridian swamplands. The title story, "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves," is perhaps the most unforgettable of the group -- children raised by their werewolf parents are willingly handed off to the nuns so they might have a chance at shaking off their lupine upbringing, as they themselves will never experience the magical change. In "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," a girl watches her potentially possessed sister experience a sexual awakening, fending for herself and a little too unaware of the danger that comes from outside a person, rather than within, even when it's not in alligator skin. Other stories feature theme parks made up of giant conch shells, an assisted living center where the elderly inhabitants occupy boats instead of apartments, and a disillusioned young star-gazer struggles to hold on to a sense of wonder in the world while slipping in to the grasp of peer pressure. While the settings and actual events may be strange and incredible, it's really the description of emotional states and changes that indelibly remain in the reader's mind. (Well, okay, the odd details stick around, too.)

Fans of Kelly Link will find a kindred spirit here, though Karen Russell narrows her focus on the Everglades and its environs. Her tone is quite perfect for the short story format, as she offers a concise and single glimpse at each settling that feels whole in its existence, even if one itches to know more. This is a collection that should not be missed if you enjoy short stories, twisted backwoodsy settings, or alligators in most any format.

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