Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
Two-time National Magazine Award Winner for fiction Karen Russell has put together a book of stories so extraordinary and other-worldly you won’t soon be able to forget them. There are only eight stories in Orange World, but the characters, plot lines, and settings take you to other places and into situations most average readers couldn’t ever imagine. But we don’t have to; we have Russell to do that for us, taking readers through scenarios from the otherworldly to fantasy to literary fiction (there’s a story about Madame Bovary’s fictional dog) with a creative flair and writing style that somehow makes it enjoyable, if not at times just a tad unsettling.
“The Prospectors” isn’t about miners or gold prospectors, as the title might have you believe; it is about two young women in the 1930’s making their way in the world in less than respectable ways, and who take a ski lift to what is supposed to be a new, high-end lodge, but instead find themselves in an entirely other realm.
In “Bog Girl: A Romance,” a 15-year-old boy falls in love with a 2,000-year-old woman he found while working in the bog and subsequently dug up.
“The Bad Graft” is a story of two young lovers who leave Pennsylvania for California, only to have their journey and their relationship take a turn for the worse when the girl becomes possessed by the soul of a Joshua Tree while they are traveling through the desert.
In the title story, and the last one of the book, an expecting mother makes a deal with the devil, agreeing to breastfeed him in return for the safe delivery of her unborn child, only to regret the choice almost as soon as it is made.
These stories, while addictively weird and boundary-pushing are also enjoyable because Russell interjects the normal into them, whether through the character’s dialogue, everyday imagery, or in some instances, a sweet and/or satisfying ending. They are not of the terrifying variety of horror or science fiction; therefore they are, at least to me, more palatable. Each story can stand on its own, so if one gets too much to take or believe, and you want or need to skip around, you can without ruining any of the previous or following pieces. And thanks to Russell’s imagination and extremely readable writing style, the act of reading them is as gratifying and enjoyable as the stories themselves.