Karen Russell, “The Bad Graft”

140609_r25122-320Angie and Andy visit Joshua Tree and something sinister gets into her blood.

(from The New Yorker, June 9, 2014)

The trip was a kind of honeymoon. The boy and girl were eloping. They weren’t married, however, and had already agreed that they never would be—they weren’t that kind of couple. The boy, Andy, was a reader; he said that they were seafarers, wanderers. “Ever unfixed,” a line from Melville, was scraped in red ink across the veins of his arm. The girl, Angie, was three years sober and still struggling to find her mooring on dry land. On their first date they had decided to run away together.

Andy bought a stupidly huge knife; Angie had a tiny magenta flashlight suspended on a gold chain, which she wore around her throat. He was twenty-two, she had just turned twenty-six. Kids were for later, maybe. They could still see the children they had been: their own Popsicle-red smiles haunting them. Still, they’d wanted to celebrate a beginning. And the Mojave was a good place to launch into exile together; already they felt their past lives in Pennsylvania dissolving into rumor, sucked up by the hot sun of California and the perfectly blue solvent of the sky.

Read the story before I spoil you.

Karen Russell remains one of my all-time favorites. It’s not just her sentences, though they are so, so pretty. (And it’s not that she let me interview her twice in two weeks when my digital recorder failed me a few years back.) It’s the way she surprises me all the time by sneaking hints of horror and sci-fi into what otherwise might be called high and mighty literary fiction.

“Hints” seems like the wrong word for a story about a malicious, sentient toxin entering the bloodstream through the pricking of a finger and corrupting its new human host/biological cul de sac. But, really, though the toxin appears to exist, and I feel like Scully just saying this, but what do we actually know about it? What evidence do we have?

Did it change Angie’s behavior? I dunno, man. She was probably pretty moody/flaky long before she got to Joshua Tree.

Yeah, but murder? Far as I know, she hasn’t murdered anyone. Sorry, Mulder.

And sorry, Andy. You just might need to die for me to believe this is an X-File. But I want to believe. When I read The Ruins I was rooting for the vines.

122 days left in 2014. 97 more stories for me to read. And that’s not even counting what Mary “All Killer/No Filler” Miller is up to.


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