St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Author: Karen Russell

Type: Fiction, short stories

Published: 2006

I read it: September 2015


Having read the rest of Russell’s books and finally circled back to her first story collection, it’s fun to see a couple seeds being planted. The most obvious is the lead story, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” which was expanded upon to become the novel Swamplandia! The story is a satisfying little nugget that gave me good memories of the longer book. And then there’s “Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers,” which seems to tread some of the same ground as her novella Sleep Donation. Even “from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration” sets the stage for characters homesteading across the plains, an idea which Russell revisited in the story “Proving Up” from Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

The ten stories in this collection deserve to be grouped together; most of them take place in a strange swampy island community that is sticky and tangible. Some even share peripheral characters. Russell can put you straight into the head of any colorful dreamer she chooses, until you feel the sand and sweat between the sentences. She conjures phrases like “It’s a wordless sound, a wild sound, this animal pain that can’t be haltered and led to meaning” or “She’d talk like that her whole life, I thought with a gloomy satisfaction, each word winced out like an apology for itself.” How does she do that?

The shared setting of the bulk of the stories has me confused about one thing. Why does “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” which rests in the final slot, get to be the title of the book? This is one that doesn’t take place by the waterside. It does have a great title, and highlights the animal obsession of the author, but it seems like “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” would have been a similarly catchy title. Perhaps Russell knew that story would get its own spotlight down the line.

Anyway, this book and Vampires are excellent little showcases for strange and piercing modern short stories.

3 thoughts on “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

  1. I love the connections you make with her other books. I never noticed the connection with “Proving Up,” but now that you mention it, it seems so clear. She definitely revisits old haunts.

    I, too, am thrilled with her turns of phrase. It’s been a while since I last read her, and the quotes you chose were perfect examples of why she’s such a master of languge. They brought me right back to Karen Russell world–and what a magical world that is.

    I’m looking forward to checking out more of your blog!

    • Hi Amanda, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. Glad that you liked the Russell bits I picked out. She’s just so good with words and imagery. Another author I recently read who is very similar is Kelly Link. I highly recommend giving her a shot if you haven’t already (you’ll immediately notice the Russell comparison).

      I’ll stop by to see your blog as well. Best!

Please leave your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s