Barbara’s Picks, Feb. 2013, Pt. 4: Jim Crace, Ron Currie Jr., and Karen Russell

Crace, Jim. Harvest. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Feb. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780385520775. $24.95. LITERARY
Multi-award-winner Crace (Being Dead) creates astonishing worlds, and he seems to have done so again in a work set in an isolated English village of indeterminate time and place but essential forcefulness. One frosty morning, smoke is seen drifting skyward, one column signaling that strangers are approaching, as custom dictates, another that Master Kent’s stables are ablaze. The strangers are blamed for the stable fire, even as an odd newcomer named Mr. Quill carefully observes the villagers’ lands, apparently at the request of Kent. Cumulatively, these events signal change, something that’s always resisted, and the narrative would seem to capture our darkest forebodings and suspicions.

Currie, Ron, Jr. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. Viking. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780670025343. $26.95. LITERARY
Trust the author of the acclaimed and decidedly unorthodox God Is Dead and Everything Matters! to craft an arresting bit of metafiction. Currie’s protagonist, a blend of fact and fiction from his own life, is so distraught by his father’s death, the loss of his latest book to fire, and an unreciprocated love that he hides out on a Caribbean island to write a new book about the mess he’s in. Then he decides to fake his own death, which brings him fame and fortune and, eventually, a whole lot of trouble. In our crusadingly transparent world of tweets and reality TV, playing with the facts is not appreciated. Of course, open-minded readers should enjoy that play.

Russell, Karen. Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories. Knopf. Feb. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780307957238. $24.95. SHORT STORIES
The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40. Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. The National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35. Russell surely has had a stellar career, straight out of the gate, so ignore the Pulitzer nonevent that swamped her finalist, Swamplandia!, and remember that it was a New York Times and a No. 1 Indie Next best seller and also a New York Times Book Review Top Ten. The offbeat lusciousness of that book seems to repeated in Russell’s new story collection, starting with a title piece that features two long-time vampires whose 100-year-old marriage is on the skids because one of them has developed a fear of flying. Then there’s the massage therapist who finds she can heal a war veteran by prodding his tattoos. A few stories, like those about abandoned children, lose the wit and lusciousness and go all dark. Don’t miss.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.