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St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Karen Russell

" Since retiring, my father has gotten to be on the largish side for a Minotaur, not fat so much as robust, and now he gathered his bulk to an impressive eighteen hands high. He pawed at the earthen floor. (Ma liked to complain about this, Dad’s cloven trenches in our kitchen. “Go do your gouging out of doors, like a respectable animal!”)"

Reviewed by Sarah Salway

The cover of this collection blazes how the author is a twenty-five year old "wunderkind," "a girl on fire," "blazingly original", "a dazzling debut", "a breath-taking discovery." Phew. The sound of publishing hands rubbing together with joy at the thought of a young, beautiful AND talented author made it hard to concentrate, but once I had got to the first story, I wondered if all the hype did this book any favours. It’s not that I didn’t agree with it. I do, this is a dazzling debut, but these stories have something quieter and more judged about them than the exuberant fireworks I was expecting. 

In the title story, a pack of young werewolves – "all hair and snarl and floor-thumping joy" – are converted into young ladies by the nuns of St Lucy’s. Not surprisingly, it is an uncomfortable transformation, and Russell conjures up laugh out loud scenes such as when the werewolves are tested by having to feed the ducks, rather than eat them. But Russell is skilful enough to take a clever premise even further, and it is the relationship between the wolf-narrator and Mirabella, a pack member who will not conform, which takes centre stage. When the narrator betrays Mirabella, it is as hearbreaking as the last line when she finally returns back to the cave, a successful graduate.

‘”So,” I said, telling my first human lie. “I’m home.”’

Nothing more need be said about what has been lost through being "civilised". In fact, betrayal and casual childish cruelty are strong themes in these stories, providing a needed cohesion to a collection otherwise overloaded with outlandish settings and plots. 

Sometimes, it is judged perfectly, such as when a boy is forced by his mother to become friends with an orphaned mute. "Be that friend!" chorus his sisters at him, and in that phrase alone you can taste their joy at their brother’s pain. In places, however, I found the cruelty too much for the balance of the story, such as Raffy and Marta’s exploitation of the albino, Petey, in The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime

Out to Sea was possibly my favourite story. It is full of the same acute observations that force me to watch The Office from behind my sofa. The old man Sawtooth’s growing obsession with Angie, his unsatisfactory visitor in the No Elder Person is an Island Volunteer Program, means he ignores her obvious distaste for him, even as she licks the space where his amputed limb would be. The way Russell shows the gratitude with which Sawtooth finally starts to feel something for another human makes this an unlikely, awful, but strangely touching, love story. 

In other stories, a Minotaur takes his family on a pioneering journey, a child at a sleep camp for "disordered dreamers" tries not to dream of future tragedies, and a child gets stuck in a Giant Conch at the City of Shells amusement park.

Sarah Salway is the author of two novels, Something Beginning With and Tell Me Everything, and two collections of short stories, Leading the Dance and Messages (co-authored with Lynne Rees). She teaches creative writing and lives in London.


PublisherChatto & Windus

Publication Date:2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Karen Russell has been featured in both The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and New York magazine’s 25 people to watch under the age of 25. Her fiction has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrope and The New Yorker. She lives in New York City.

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