The brilliance of Karen Russell’s fiction starts in her sentences and carries through her vivid, mind-bending plots. Fittingly for a book called Orange World (Knopf, $25.95), these eight stories are colorful and wide-ranging: “the revelatory pain called wonder” is “a purple welt rising” in the mind while weather is a series of “violet funnels” and “crocusblue mists.” Embracing both sides of what was once an ultimate divide, Russell expands notions of life and death, putting existence itself in a new perspective—much as climate change is doing. In “The Gondoliers” four women navigate the toxic waters of New Florida by listening to the echoes of the drowned Old Florida. “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. In the multi-layered “Black Corfu,” Russell chronicles the life of a “posthumous surgeon” who renders the recently dead unfit to walk again, which amounts to “treat[ing] the fears of the living.” Though set in 1620, this story is very much of the 21st century; in addition to everything else—her language, compassion, storytelling brio—Russell is a superb allegorist, and these eight tales don’t just entertain, they illuminate and inform.
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