The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[27] “Vampires in the Lemon Grove”

on March 21, 2013

vampires in the lemon grove

 I once pictured time as a black magnifying glass and myself as a microscopic flightless insect trapped in that circle of night. But then Magreb came along, and eternity ceased to frighten me. Suddenly each moment followed its antecedent in a neat chain, moments we filled with each other.

Karen Russell makes the list of authors that I’ve wanted to read for ages, but never actually gotten my hands on. By the time I heard about St. Julie’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, her book Swamplandia! had already come out, to pretty good reviews amongst the bloggers I read. Then her most recent book of short stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove shows up at work and all of a sudden I realize that I’ve been totally distracted and now we’re three books deep in to Karen’s bibliography and this is the first I’m reading of her! It seems kismet the way this stuff works out sometimes, however, because I have to say, this book is exactly what I needed to read right now! With spring dawning, it was delightful to read a book about love, about Italy, about vampires – and about bright yellow lemons.

Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand, who is making 2013 her Year of the Short Story, pointed me to this story in a recent blog post she did about all the really awesome short story collections that are slated to come out (or have already hit the shelves) in 2013. Because Random House is awesome, you can read the titular story of the collection online for free – which I would highly recommend that you do!

When we join Clyde in Italy, he strikes us as any other elderly retiree living in a lemon grove in Italy. He wears cotton shirts and polished shoes and suspenders, he play dominoes and everyone refers to him as a nonno, a grandfatherly Italian figure. The only thing is – Clyde is a vampire. His wife, Magreb – also a vampire – lives in the local caves. Clyde has lost his ability to shift in to bat form, which we learn is because he has learned that vampires are not what human myths have created them to be. Clyde, early in his life, heard what the myths said and believed that he needed to act accordingly – drinking the blood, living in a coffin, no daylight, that sort of thing – even though, in reality, none of those actions are required for survival as a vampire. After meeting Magreb, and learning to live as a normal human (minus the whole constant thirst and immortality thing), Clyde slowly loses the ability shape-shift.

myth taken

The story isn’t a long one, but it tells a story that doesn’t necessarily have much to do with them being vampires. It’s the story of a marriage passing with age, the nature of love as it relates to the ways we see ourselves. It’s about what we give up to attain what we want  – and then evaluating whether or not we wanted what we thought we wanted. That all sounds kind of poncy and abstract, but it’s hard to say much more in detail without giving away some of the best plot points. To comment on the writing of the story, I will say that I was thoroughly impressed with the beauty in the words, and the way that the sentences seemed to convey this kind of slow, lazy feeling of Italian summer and the passing of eternal years. I’m kind of a sucker for vampire literature, but not in the ways that its been hitting the market lately – to me, one of the most appealing and fascinating parts of vampire lore is the idea of living for eternity, of seeing all the greatest events in history come to pass – and of having to say goodbye to people who won’t be sharing that mortality with you. It’s an incredibly romantic idea, in an incredibly sad way, and Karen handles it with ease – especially in the final scene of the story.

Because I love her, my hunger pangs have gradually mellowed into a comfortable despair. Sometimes I think of us as two holes cleaved together, two twin hungers. Our bellies growl at each other like companionable dogs. I love the sound, assuring me we’re equals in our thirst. We bump our fangs and feel like we’re coming up against the same hard truth.

Rating: OMFGZ!

PS: Just to keep it light and Buffy-themed:



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