Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

  • 58-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 8 story summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Vampires in the Lemon Grove Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 58-page guide for “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell includes detailed story summaries and analysis covering 8 stories, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Magic as Metaphor and Ordinary Objects Becoming Extraordinary.

Plot Summary

Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories, published in 2013, is a collection of short stories that are linked by the supernatural. The collection can be considered a work of magical realism because each story combines a realistic setting with magical elements; however, perhaps a more fitting label is that of speculative fiction, since many of the magical elements are darker in nature, and border on horror. Due to the many mature themes, it’s geared more towards an adult audience.

Many of the stories were published independent of each other before the collection was published, but most of them are thematically connected. For example, in “Reeling for the Empire,” “The New Veterans,” and “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” monstrous characters like silkworm hybrids, a living tattoo, and an abject doll are used as metaphors to reveal the deeper psychological issue of haunting regret. In each of these stories, characters are tormented by their inability to change the past. “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979,” and “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” each utilize surreal elements, but are, at heart, relationship stories.

Each story in the collection utilizes animals or ghost-like creatures to reveal something deeper. In “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” two vampires suck on lemons to quench their thirst, but really the lemons are symbolic of their withering relationship. In “Reeling for the Empire,” Japanese women are being turned into silkworm/human hybrids and forced to reel silk in secret for Japan; yet, underneath, the story is about how the protagonist uses her debilitating regret to her advantage, and also reveals how many Japanese women were treated during Emperor Meiji’s reign.

“The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979,” is a coming-of-age story that uses seagulls to represent how a young man feels like he’s losing control of the direction of his life. In “Proving Up,” a little boy must deliver a highly-coveted mirror to his neighbors. The story is set during the time of the Homestead Act, but uses a monstrous, ghost-like creature to reveal the maddening conditions that families faced during that time. “The Barn at the End of Our Term” is about a handful of former US presidents that died and woke up in horse’s bodies. The story uses hyperbole to reveal the futility in the lust for power. Similarly, “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” utilizes exaggeration to demonstrate the absurdity of taking a game too seriously.

“The New Veterans” is about a massage therapist who helps an Iraq War veteran overcome his PTSD. The story uses a magical, changing tattoo to physically demonstrate how the veteran is overcoming his past trauma and regret. Finally, in “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” a group of bullies come across a scarecrow-like doll tied to a tree. The doll, which slowly disappears limb-by-limb, serves as a metaphor for how the group of boys slowly killed a boy’s spirit at school through bullying.

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