Most of the ten stories in Russell’s debut collection share the same literary device: the unease and tension of emerging adolescent sexuality is mirrored by strangeness (supernature, surreality) in the external world. Russell has a knack for killer first sentences, like “My brother Wallow has been kicking around Gannon’s Boat Graveyard for more than an hour, too embarrassed to admit that he doesn’t see any ghosts” (“Haunting Olivia”); “Emma and I are curled together in the basket of the Thomas Edison Insomnia Balloon, our breath coming in soft quick bursts.” (“Z.Z.’s Sleep Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers”); and “Barnaby is busy hosing down Paundra, that hoary old carapace, when he first hears the screaming.” (The City of Shells”).
The best of these stories are uneasy-making and potent. They’re rich in unexpected emotional and physical details. Even when they’re too weird to be credible, they have nuggets of gawky truth. The least of these stories are similar, but not quite as strong or resonant. Many share a vague common setting: muggy and coastal, in between tourist seasons. I’m tempted to wonder if “Accident Brief, Occurrence # 00/422″‘s glacial setting represents a deliberate attempt on Russell’s part to stretch beyond her comfort zone; I wondered the same about “Out to Sea,” in which she tackles the viewpoint of a much older character.
needs more demons? nope.