The brilliance of Russell’s fiction starts in her sentences and carries through her mind-bending plots. As the title suggests, these stories are colorful and wide-ranging: “the revelatory pain called wonder” is “a purple welt rising” in the mind. The boldest move of this constantly surprising writer is to create characters that are neither quite dead nor exactly alive. Miners buried in an avalanche mesmerize two women with their liquor, dancing, and gold eyes. A fifteen-year old learns the complexities of love by falling for a woman preserved in a bog for two millennia. These pieces expand notions of connection and isolation, putting existence itself in a new perspective—much as climate change is doing. “The Bad Graft” dramatizes the shared plight of all earthly creatures, following the intertwined fates of a woman and the spirit of the Joshua tree that embeds itself in her psyche. In “The Gondoliers” four sisters who live in the toxic waters of New Florida navigate by listening to the echoes of the drowned Old Florida, responding to the “vibrations” that link past to future and sustain the present. “The Tornado Auction” follows the sorry fate of an old-school tornado rancher who can’t transition to farming wind, though his compulsion harms his children. And in the multi-layered “Black Corfu,” Russell chronicles the life of a “posthumous surgeon” who renders the recently dead unfit to walk again. Though set in 1620, this story is very much of the 21st century as it traces a wildfire of unfounded rumor that ruins a man’s life. In addition to everything else—her language, compassion, and storytelling brio—Russell is a superb allegorist, and these eight tales don’t just entertain, they illuminate again and again.
Orange World -- Karen Russell