Short Story Discovery: St. Lucy's Home by Karen Russell
is an American novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
St.Lucy's is a wonderful story about the loss of innocence and using this sort of animal realism to represent a larger message that with age, we all conform and lose the wildness we once had as free children. It is definitely a short story worth reading.
In "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves," the setting is through the characters and small details. For example, always indicating the adults as "Sister ___" and "nuns," readers see women in black robes, covered heads, carrying rosary beads and wearing a cross around their neck. With these images, readers associate them with clean chapels and religious institutions, so already, the setting is built and to no sweat of the author's.
Through small details, one example is "When we entered a room, our nostrils flared beneath the new odors: onion and bleach, candle wax, the turnipy smell of unwashed bodies." (176) The wolf girls's room has been tainted by Jeannette, who after getting a haircut and smiling, "pretending like she couldn't smell a thing", is becoming increasingly more girl than wolf. With the girls, I'm uncomfortable. I smell the onion and bleach. My nostrils are flaring. And I am uncomfortable. All because of Jeannette. This is symbolic of me as the reader losing my childhood innocence and conforming to the rules of society with age as the girls conform to the rules of St. Lucy. Russell writes very well to keep her larger, more universal meaning under the subtle wraps of the wild wolf girls.
Another thing I love about this story is that it's reminiscent of F.Scott Fitzgerald's advice to writers that good stories are the implausible.
An example of this is when Russel writes, "A wolf-girl bank teller, her makeup smeared in oily rainbows, eating a raw steak on the deposit slips while her colleagues looked on in disgust..." By creating a society with practices of taming wolf-girls, to even have a concrete term "wolf-girl" and "wolf-boy," Karen Russell is normalizing the abnormal. She has put these girls into an environment that's 100% against their mentalities and from there, she's easily made an entertaining fictional story.
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Hope you enjoyed this short story discovery!