A review of

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

by Karen Russell

Central question: Is adolescence even more awkward in the Everglades?
Format: 242 pp., cloth; Size: 5-5/8" x 8-3/8" Price: $22.00; Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Editor: Jordan Pavlin; Print run: 35,000; Cover design: Carol Carson; Age of author: 24; Author claims her stories come from: “A mental Bermuda Triangle formed by Diet Coke, cartoons, and insomnia.” Representative sentence: “Like the other day, these bovine girls with back acne floated by us in the pool—I mean, the kind of girls you wouldn’t want to feel up with oven mitts on, Molly—but Raffy gave them these charity catcalls and politely invited each one to have his baby, even though you could tell that his heart wasn’t in it.”

Narrated by strange, quiet children and nestled deep in the mystique of the Everglades, Karen Russell’s stories are unnerving, darkly funny, and immensely enjoyable. Their standard recipe takes a common coming-of-age theme—“my parents are lunatics,” “death is part of life,” “growing up is hard”—folds it into a surreal situation—“my dad is a Minotaur,” “I am trapped in a giant conch shell with a janitor,” “my 14 sisters and I were raised by werewolves and now nuns are trying to prepare us for life in polite society”—and tops it off with superb, efficient sentences. Mix well and you’ve got one of the strongest debuts in recent memory.

The grown-ups in these ten stories, werewolves or otherwise, are usually bumbling doofuses, hopeless introverts, or worse. They loaf around, drink too much, and search for new ways to fornicate, generally acting like extras awaiting a part in a George Saunders story. Given such disheartening role models, it’s no wonder Russell’s young characters are a detached and prematurely world-weary bunch. They speak with wry vocabular twists and an unlikely, sophisticated humor. “Makeup is forbidden in our household, but my sisters have slathered their lips with beeswax so that each syllable emerges at a blinding wattage.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Thomas Haley

Thomas Haley writes essays, book reviews, and advertising copy. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Stephanie.

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