Analysis of Karen Russell
Lucy’s Home for girls Raised by Wolves, our narrator, Claudette, speaks from the mind of a half human half wolf in transition. Of the pack’s reaction to the nuns, how Sister Josephine “tasted like sweat and freckles” (226) after Claudette bit her ankle, which she “smelled easy to kill” (226); how the mousy social worker was “nervous smelling” (226), eventually Claudette herself “smelled like a purebred girl, easy to kill” (242). When the sisters were reunited with the brothers they no longer smelt as of family they knew but of “pomade and cold, sterile sweat” (241).
Russell creates such realistic imagery in a non-realistic world. Not just with scents but with a sense of touch sensory. How the girls went “knuckling along” (224) the floors when they first arrived; even when speaking, their ineptitude to force their tongues to “curl around our false new names” (229) creates such realistic imagery you sense your tongue running across your own teeth. Russell demonstrates the same encompassing sensory style in other short stories for instance Z. Z. s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers, within the second paragraph the protagonist in describing the scent of a girl, Emma, how Emma “smells like dinner” (49), then pinpointing it so precisely one smells the scent of this girl how she smells not just of any dinner but of “barbecue sauce, the buttery whiff of potato foil” (49) an entire meal that you can almost smell through the pages and text. Russell’s constant reminder and repetition in the narrators senses is not overwhelming but functional, as it creates roots for these fantastical stories in some alternate reality that is only fantastical in its subtleties.
Russell’s story telling weaves in strong undertones in intricate coming of age stories, which progress within the narrative’s mind along with in the action of the story. This is strongly evident in Z. Z. ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers, where the protagonist is surrounded by others who have sleeping issues however not as disturbing as his, more over his only similar dream patterned companion stops remembering their prophesized dreams leaving our narrator and protagonist ,Elijah, alone.
Russell opens the story with Elijah and Emma attempting to sleep together to work through dreams as a pair before they are interrupted. Towards the end the story we as readers return to Elijah and Emma attempting this action again, with both struggling to get comfortable, sharing blankets, awkward lullaby until in anguish Russell describes not only the pair but also Elijah’s widespread loneliness, “it’s an empty warmth, an only bodies touching” (64).
Russell slowly increases this sense of emptiness and isolation as the action reaches climax. Elijah is completely secluded after Ogli admits he forgets his dreams when he wakes, creating a separation that is the “greatest rift: campers who remember in the morning, and the ones who forget” (69) expanding on this ideal that our narrator is ultimately alone with no connection to his surrounding and the people in those surrounding, none of the “cabin others” can relate to him or themselves.
St. Lucy’s Home for girls Raised by Wolves, trails Russell’s pattern of isolated coming of age story telling. However with this particular narration and protagonist we begin with first person point of view on the other hand the text reads pluralized. Initially referring to the narrator as we or our, constantly a group or “pack” mentality narrative. Then suddenly the narrative switches to “I”. Claudette becomes known as the protagonist and narrator shortly after this switch.
After every sense, emotion, and interaction was a “pack” experience, for Russell to cut this tie and create a story that is of an individual is a subtle experience at first; from a united thought process that slowly turn individual to self-centered and selfish. This is apparent in Claudette’s frame of mind towards her little sister Mirabella, from “the pack worrying about Mirabella” (230) to Claudette singular thoughts and emotions toward her “littlest sister”.
This switch epitomizes the coming to age alone tone that Russell creates, initially the pack protected each other, thought as one, and were connected in every way till they adapted to the new environment, becoming singular units growing up isolated from each other “snarl at one another for no reason” (229) becoming accustomed to thinking individually as an independent person. These stories although diverse in content and storyline Russell connects each to another almost subconsciously.
They share similar struggle of coming of age stories, stories of isolation in the first person that reveal one trait or another within the battle. Despite the fact that is the same reasoning with each story it has a new outcome, therefor the stories are not repetitive while the elements used might be. Russell’s constant use of senses or imagery of hands and feet do not subtract from the story but heighten them. Russell creates these images that work because it is relatable subtly by creating images in the readers mind, thus making it more realistic even though the stories are of fantastical mindset.