Into the Wild
Youthful imagination runs rampant in a fictional Florida backwater
Sarah L. Courteau
by Karen Russell
$24.95 List Price
When Karen Russell's first book, the story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, was published in 2006, it was hailed as dazzling, confident, and inventive. But another adjective has been applied to the author herself: young. Granta listed her among its Best Young American Novelists, and she was featured last summer in the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" issue of America's best younger fiction writers. (Russell will turn thirty later this year.) Now her novel has arrived, packaged as another precocious early accomplishment.
As routine as it is to discuss a young writer primarily in the future tense, it is condescending, and not even very useful. As novelist Kazuo Ishiguro observed in an interview a couple years ago, "There's something very misleading about the literary culture that looks at writers in their thirties and calls them 'budding' or 'promising,' when in fact they're peaking." It's easy enough to think of myriad writers who didn't publish their best work, or publish at all, until they were in their forties or older (Katherine Anne Porter, Sherwood Anderson, Raymond Chandler, Edward P. Jones, and Paul Harding, last year's winner of the Pulitzer for fiction, to name but a few). But there's a finite amount of literary blood and gristle we can deliver ourselves of, and a writer's early work may represent a sizable chunk of the whole. Someone as masterly as Russell isn't a virtuosic embryo to be cooed over but an artist who is presenting as fully formed a creation as she can—and perhaps ever will—conceive.