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#91718 - 11/01/12 09:39 AM November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia"
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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You guys, I'm pretty sure you're going to conclude that I'm somehow working out my grief about my sister in this year's selections, but it really is just a coincidence, honest. "Haunting Olivia," Karen Russell's debut short story in The New Yorker, is about two young brothers on a quest to find their dead younger sister's body.

I swear it's not as morbid as it sounds. Olivia, an imaginative and mischievous child, convinced her brothers to let her stay behind and continue playing in the ocean one evening -- only to get dragged out to sea, or so everyone assumes, as her body has never been recovered. The story explores her brothers' response and feelings of responsibility. For a story with such depressing subject matter, it's surprisingly funny and imbued with something akin to magical realism.

You can access the story in the New Yorker's archives.

Discussion begins on November 15. Happy reading!

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#91728 - 11/08/12 10:33 AM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Bump! Inspired by my enjoyment of this story, I just started reading Karen Russell's [i]Swamplandia![/u], which includes "Haunting Olivia." So, if you happen to have a copy of that book, you could read it there instead of online.
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#91731 - 11/08/12 04:26 PM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
Kivrin Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 4604
Loc: Santa Cruz, CA, USA

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Um...LSUG..."Haunting Olivia" is found in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Also found there is "Ava Wrestles the Alligator", from which sprang Swamplandia. I enjoy Russell's short stories a lot, but it has been so long since I read St. Lucy's Home... that I've forgotten the short story. Looking forward to discussing it!
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#91733 - 11/08/12 05:44 PM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: Kivrin]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Oh, duh. OK, I bought both books, but I must not have been paying much attention to which one I clicked open on the Kindle.
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#91743 - 11/15/12 08:14 PM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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I loved this story so much. I read it just before I opened the topic, and it took all my willpower not to launch into the actual discussion right then. I jotted down some notes of what I wanted to make sure I mentioned -- and of course I left them at work. *rolls eyes*

Anyway, Timothy and Wallow break my heart and make me laugh all at the same time. I'm both appalled and amused by the way they use their grief to take advantage of the adults around them.

So, here's the part where I once again take a book club selection and take it all personally. Feel free to disregard me. When my sister was little, she talked constantly about the "people who lived in the wall." She informed us that she went into the wall every night. She described their lives and houses and activities in minute detail. She drew pictures of herself hanging out with them at LEAST as much as she drew pictures of her "real" family. Olivia's imagination rivals my sisters, and I can see why her brothers would hold so tightly to her memory and cling to the logical if unrealistic idea that her flights of fancy were more real than they realized.

All of which makes that last paragraph such a punch in the gut: "Every fish burns lantern-bright, and I canít tell the living from the dead."

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#91745 - 11/16/12 04:53 PM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
Kivrin Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 4604
Loc: Santa Cruz, CA, USA

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I think it's very powerful when a story resonates deeply within us. LSUG, I don't mind a bit if you tell your story. I do the same. Isn't that what makes us love some stories and books so much? That we have personal experience to nestle into among the layers of meaning within the story? I loved it too. I loved the prose, for sentences like the one you quoted above, and for the atmospheric dreaminess of the whole thing. I loved it for characters like grandma Granana, and her banana foods, her knowledge of the coves, for the Glowworm Grotto, for the brothers relationship to one another, and their belief that they could find their sister using those diabolical goggles. We feel Timothy's pain through-out the narration. Sigh. Good story. I read it more than once. LSUG, I am sure you did also.
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#91746 - 11/16/12 05:55 PM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: Kivrin]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Thanks, Kivrin!

I'm still at work, so I just checked my list of things I wanted to mention, and it looks like I hit most of them.

Russellís use of language is just so beautiful. The descriptions of the plesiosaur and of Timothyís reaction when its flipper sweeps through him (which reminded me of the ghosts in Harry Potter) are just stunning. I really did finish the story with the impulse to read everything Russell has ever written.

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#91748 - 11/17/12 07:29 PM Re: November 2012 Selection: "Haunting Olivia" [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
Kivrin Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 4604
Loc: Santa Cruz, CA, USA

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I think Russell does better with short stories, actually. Probably because of the way she uses language. I had some difficulties with Swamplandia, I think, in part due to her eloquent prose. It kind of took over at times, and the plot went on and on and on. But, you should read it anyway, if you want more Russell. I mean, it's a very good novel, just uneven. I'm definitely going to read her new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove when it comes out in February.
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