With her collection “Vampires in the Lemon Grove”, Russell wins the 2013 WHM prize for melding literary and genre and the humorous with the horrific/uncanny/dark. I suppose there could be other challengers, but they’re going to have to be damn good with the blending.
I would like to see her push a little further into genre territory, especially with her endings, which tend towards the ambiguous and/or the sum-it-up image. The title story especially suffers from this. Of course, this is a matter of taste, and my tastes now run towards writers taking a bit more of stand with their work. I’d rather read 10 genre endings and only have one hit than 20 perfect but ambiguous literary endings that all seem familiar.
That’s unlikely to happen, though. Russell herself explained in a must-listen Agony Column Podcast, she prefers the ambiguity [1. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a link to the MP3 file.]. And if that’s part of the engine that leads to the creation of her stories, then she shouldn’t tinker with it because from my readerly perspective, the twisted science fictional/fantastical premises she comes up with are fascinating (and amusing and horrific).
It’s interesting to note, though, that the stories in this collection–all of which have strong genre elements–were published in literary mags: Zoetrope, Conjunctions, Tin House and Granta. Maybe they pay better or are better for building the career Russell is building. Likely both. But it’s always intriguing to me to see where the interstitial authors find homes. Russell did garner two genre-oriented award recognitions [2. According to her sfadb.com entry]: a Tiptree nomination for her previous story collection and a Shirley Jackson nomination for “Reeling for the Empire”, which is one of the strongest stories in this current collection. But it seems to me that Nebula and Locus noms (or even wins) for “Reeling” would have been a fait accompli if the story had appeared in Clarkesworld or F&SF. And the story very well may win the Shirley Jackson for novelette [3. The awards will be anounced on July 14]. I’m not saying that it is more worthy than the other novelettes that did receive Locus and/or Nebula nods–only that it seems to be well within range.
Okay, enough inside baseball–on to the collectionizing:
Best story: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” has that ending problem; “Reeling for the Empire” sticks with me more than any of the other stories so it must be the best one.
Favorite story: About half the stories are strong candidates for this, but I’m going to go with “The Barn at the End of Our Term”, which is about U.S. presidents incarnating as horses after they die. It’s thoughtful and amusing, and the premise is perfect.
Creepiest story: “Reeling for the Empire” is the most horrifying story and others are rather uncanny, but I found “Proving Up” the creepiest because we know the least about what’s going on.
Funniest story: the most overtly funny one is “Douglas Shackleton’s Rules for Antartic Tailgating”, but I found myself chuckling most at “The Barn at the End of Our Term”.