Russell's third collection beckons like a will-o'-the-wisp across the bog, with eight crisp stories that will leave longtime fans hungry for more.
Since her debut more than a decade ago, Russell (Sleep Donation, 2014, etc.) has exhibited a commitment to turning recognizable worlds on their heads in prose so rich that sentences almost burst at the seams. Her third collection is no exception, and its subjects—forgotten pockets of violent American history, climate-related apocalypse, the trials of motherhood—feel fresh and urgent in her care. Russell takes an expansive view of history, excavating past horrors and imagining the contours of real terror on the horizon. In "The Prospectors," two society-savvy gold diggers must fight their way out of a haunted ski lodge without attracting the wrath of long-dead Civilian Conservation Corps men killed by an avalanche on the job. Even within the framework of her ghost story, Russell remains attuned to the performances women mount in order to survive the threat of male violence: "People often mistake laughing girls for foolish creatures," cautions the narrator. "They mistake our merriment for nerves or weakness, or the hysterical looning of desire. Sometimes, it is that. But not tonight." In "The Tornado Auction," a widowed farmer risks it all to return to his calling—rearing tornadoes on the Nebraskan plains—over the protests of his three grown daughters. "I saw, I understood, that in fact I had always been the greatest danger to my family. I was the apex predator," he muses after a terrible accident, exhibiting the guilt and regret of a loving father who nevertheless finds it difficult to change his ways. While the title story, "Orange World," offers a chilling—and insightful—depiction of motherhood as a real-life devil's bargain, it dips a toe in the realm of schlocky and crude horror uncharacteristic of Russell's other work. The result is mixed even though the story retains Russell's hallmark narrative strengths: a narrator who butts up against the edge of her own expectations and a strange, uncanny world that yields a difficult solution to a familiar emotional problem. "Rae admits that she is having some difficulties with nursing....There is no natural moment in the conversation to say, Mother, the devil has me."
A momentous feat of storytelling in an already illustrious career.