Karen Russell interviews Kent Russell: "I was firmly in the throes of male adolescence's hurtful apathy"

MacArthur genius Karen Russell turns the questions on her kid brother, the family's next wunderkind

Published April 9, 2015 10:58PM (EDT)

Kent Russell, Karen Russell    (Knopf Doubleday/Joanne Chan)
Kent Russell, Karen Russell (Knopf Doubleday/Joanne Chan)

Karen Russell: For years, I'd tell you one of my book ideas, all ginned up and lemur-eyed, only to discover that I was yet again replicating the plot of "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective." With "Swamplandia!," I was so excited about the prospect of alternating story lines--two parallel journeys to hell, figurative and literal--and I described this Watson-and-Crick vision of a helical structure to you, in great detail. You responded by saying: "Oh, right. Like that 'Sesame Street' movie, where there's a live action Big Bird and a fantasy Big Bird. Bird Odysseus. ‘Follow That Bird.’”

When I described "Sleep Donation," you told me cheerily that I was actually doing some fusion-plagiarism of "Nightmare on Elm Street" and Stephen King’s "Thinner." So here's my question: What horror movie or Top-40 song or Rachael Ray recipe or whatever works as your secret influence, for "I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son"?

Kent Russell: The answer to this question accidentally fell out of my mouth while I was drinking a bunch of beer-shot combos with an interviewer at Sharlene's. You know what it is? It's freaking "Legend of Zelda." More specifically: "A Link to the Past." It's the idea that there once was this ikon of unified power that ruled the land -- in "Zelda" it's the Triforce; in the book and world, it's white masculine hegemony -- only now it's been broken up. It's been shattered into seven or eight pieces and tossed to the wind.

And so here's me, or at least Archetypical Me -- Timid Link, let's say -- who's been tasked with the adventure. I have to errand into the wilderness and locate the pieces. At first I'm small, with not a lot of health on the meter, and I'm ill-equipped -- but as I progress from one dungeon to the next, winning back the pieces from the outsize creatures that guard them, I gain more abilities and secret weapons and what-have-you. Finally, I'm prepared to do battle with the big boss and put the whole thing together at the last.

Of course, I'm not saying that I want to reestablish the white-dude-caliphate and thus restore order in the land. But it's that kind of episodic hero's quest, very Joseph Campbell-y, that I was subconsciously drawn to, I think. Seven or eight descents into disparate, thematically unique gauntlets -- and in between, there's the chance to explore more and more of the map in which they're situated.

Or at least that's how I'm going to rationalize all the time we spent in front of the Super Nintendo.

Here's one for you: When you were about to head off to college, and I was firmly in the throes of male adolescence's hurtful apathy -- what did you think was going to become of me? Did you ever worry? For instance, when I would push away your proffered copy of "Wise Blood," choosing instead to go do whippets with my friends and side-arm fingerling potatoes at one-another's crotches -- what was going on inside your head?

Well, isn't the cliché that girls go deep inward, whereas boys explode mailboxes? I didn't know about the whippets! I thought you guys just lobbed vegetables at each other's crotches while drunk. My favorite story, one that made me feel a queasy-big-sister mixture of alarm and pride, was that time you accidentally got the top score on that Future Business Leaders of America test? We found the trophy hidden in the trunk of the car? And then you ditched out of the FBLA finals, to go to the Wet 'N Wild water park.

I love “Timid Link” as Archetypal You. Even as I have never, not for one second, thought of you as timid. Many other adjectives, but never that one.

I also don't remember you as being apathetic. Narcoleptic, maybe. A big day-sleeper. You were funny as hell, and I think you must have been bored by school. Bored and frightened. All the resources siphoned off for survival purposes, at our high school. You used to give me a hard time about being a bookworm, remember that? But I recall you loving Tolkien, and tearing through the "Shanara" series at about the same age that I mainlined those elf queens. I'm not sure why you came to books later -- I wonder if it's harder to publicly love books if you're a teenaged dude? I was shy about it at Gables. I lied!  I said I was reading only for phantom classes and tests and extra credit, denying books thrice.

I wasn't worried about you when you were in high school -- maybe I was naive, but I remember recognizing how totally sharp you were, just mad precocious, and really kind, too. We had a lot of innocent kid fun, like, deep into adolescence, didn't we? Now I worry more, since you mention it. It's strange to read "Timid Son," and to hear you yourself explicitly articulating my own worries. “I'm just being paranoid!” I might have thought, but nope, I can now MLA-cite the concerns, quoting you to you. This is a unique situation.

Let me ask you this: In one of my favorite essays, "Mithradates of Fond Du Lac," you go to meet a man, Tim the Self-Immunizer, who epitomizes the aphorism, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger." This bumper sticker logic has no doubt caused all sorts of damage to dudes and their loved ones, for centuries of non-fatal activities that these dudes rationalize as vivifying, citing their still beating hearts, ignoring the trail of tears behind them. You didn't die, thank God, writing these essays, even though there were long stretches where we, your family, were pretty freaked. What did writing this book strengthen, for you? What, if anything, did writing these profiles and essays weaken (assumptions, convictions, your digestive tract)?

Do you feel that in some way that you yourself were processing toxins in these essays? Breaking down certain American myths of masculinity, self-sufficiency, to make an anti-venom?

Ahem, I was the FBLA economics champion of Miami-Dade County. Won that trophy answering multiple-choice questions about price elasticity while also macking on chicken fingers in the party room of a Dave & Buster’s. And, yeah, rather than participate in colloquiums at the state championship, we all got faded and went to Wet’n’Wild. Dennis already looked like a CPA at 17 – actually, I remember first noticing Dennis’ chest hair during the pool party that followed my First Communion – and so wasn’t carded at the liquor store because he kept practicing his golf swing at the register. Anyway.

As to your question: I think anti-venom is a good analogy. To make anti-venom, you milk a snake, right, and then you inject that milked venom into a carrier animal, a host. You inject it in increasing dosages, so that the host’s blood builds up antibodies. Then you draw that host’s blood, make a serum out of it, and inject it into the bodies of other sufferers, so that the host’s blood can kill the venom for them. Vaguely Christ-like; really Russell-y.

So I’m saying that in meeting these men – these men I’m totally platonically attracted to, but also really ambivalent about – these men who embody the traits of the self-sufficient, the radically autonomous – in meeting these men, in living with them, in thinking and writing about them, I was, in a way, trying to extract a little bit of their many poisons. I was trying to inject them into myself, and – one hopes – develop a resistance in my blood that others might be able to draw from.

Because you’re right: much the same as a staggering number of people still die from snakebite every year (I believe it’s 100,000+) – there are lives lost to or ruined by this clenched belief in oneself. This spiritual fist-making. This absolute, to-the-death refusal to admit, “That I am not my own.” This belief that I can only be something or someone by virtue of exclusion. This inability to embrace the vulnerability necessary to love and be loved in return.

This belief that I’m exceptional and hardy and the only thing I’ll ever need – it allows for a whole lot of strength and ingenuity and monumental effort, but it also allows for a whole lot of callousness, coldness, and isolation. Hell is a door locked on the inside, as they say.

Sorry if that shit doesn’t make sense; I’m mad hung over. I fell asleep on two separate subway lines on my way home last night. Which brings me to my next question: I think we both abuse writing almost like a substance. We draw on it every day to obliterate our selves, our self-consciousnesses. Or maybe I’m being presumptuous? I know that at least that’s how I operate. Five hours of writing, 1,500 words on the page, the way that that compresses time and eclipses my monkey mind – I desperately need it. So tell me about your process, insofar as you have one. It seems to me you’re always writing, always pecking at your Chromebook. You seem to sort of literarily graze, if that makes sense. Whereas I have to sit down and just do this for five hours, whereafter I’m free to feel like a human.

My "process" is demented and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. You've seen how totally inefficient I am as a writer -- I'll generate pages and pages before I even come close to discovering the contours of the real story. As you know too well, I like to start out with just a goofy, foredoomed conceit: "What if a bunch of wolf-girls got reeducated by nuns?" And then, with any luck, the story will develop another dimension, and grow beyond my own lame original ambitions for it. 

I used to go on all-nighters, total writing benders, in graduate school. These days, I am much more of a grazer -- or a doodler, maybe. When I’m traveling, and I can’t write for solid blocks, the Chromebook keeps me connected to writing, it feels sort of like a sketchpad. But like you, I need to sit down and write for about three to four hours a day to feel OK, even if most of the writing I'm doing is water-beetle skittery for a long while, or just plain labored and bad.

I do think we both have compulsive personalities, and that writing is doing something essential for us. Although I'm not sure if we are abusing it or just using it to do some necessary thinking and feeling? I think “Timid Son,” and everything you write, is like a proof-of-principle for Walker Percy’s famous “not to be onto something is despair” line:

“The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

Kent, I think you are heading to Miami today? Get ready for a welter of emotions, plus dope Pollo Tropical (Oye! Chicken on the Grill!). You know, I never told you how much I love the descriptions of Miami in your book. It's amazing to encounter our home routed through your perceptual-(re)imaginary apparatus. Like, this line:

"The weather patterns in South Florida are similar to those of the Amazon...meaning that there are only about three weeks per calendar year when oxygen needn't be ginned out of the thick air like seeds in cotton. The rest of the time, the simmering out-of-doors might as well be the surface of some furnace planet; equatorial Venus."

You really can't be indifferent to nature in Miami, can you? I think that's connected in a funny way to what you're riffing on above, the dangerous dream of autonomy, self-sufficiency. Which Miami is always challenging. As you write it: "Dissolution is key...what's dread, what's paranoia, when the ground you're standing on might fall away at any moment?"

We got a good early education, I think, in the Soluble and the Insoluble. The kind of glorying in man's triumph over nature that some of your dudes fetishize in the book: not possible. Not in Miami. Tides were always revising the coastline down at the end of our street; winds changed everything in a heartbeat; trees grew overnight, spackled with those little nightlight geckos. Nature is autonomous -- nature has an inhuman autonomy. That Florida hum. We were the dependents down there, the soft and vulnerable ones. So that Man vs. Nature dream, which establishes us as separate, and pits us against the wilderness as part of some self-definition project...that falls apart in Miami. You can’t pretend you’re separate from the environment, or these forces that designed you. The second you step outside, you're in a thundershower, you are literally saturated with weather….

And speaking of dissolution: Your book is so lucid on the subject of the tug-of-war between wanting to be somewhere and wanting to be nowhere.

There's that line that everybody's been quoting in reviews, where you give us your mission statement, swinging like a wrecking ball through that fourth wall: "It's not all betrayal. I am doing this for reasons beyond the personal. I think. I have to unearth and drag into the light the hissing, congenital demons that are bleeding me dry. Yes. I have to stake them right in the heart. I have to, because I won't allow them to sink their teeth into one more member of this family."

I see you getting yourself ready to have a family, I see how this book really does read like an epic poem to your future daughter (sorry!). Or son, whatever! Or raccoon-boy! Are your baby names still the same? Dracula Stalin and Schoolbus "Bus" Russell?

Is "exorcism" a good metaphor for some of the writing in here? The image comes up a bunch of times; in the Savini essay, at one point, you describe your recurring nightmare about the bathysphere, and I wondered: Has writing this out opened up the hatch of that "cramped bathysphere"? Does that relief only come in the physical act of writing, or did something more enduring happen for you over the course of putting this book together?

You want to talk about soft and vulnerable -- I decided to go to the beach yesterday, to just gorge on as much Vitamin D as was physically possible before returning to New York City's crusty winter hellscape. ¡Tremendo error! I was seared a jaunty dog-dick red for my reading at Books & Books, which apparently was also simulcast on the Internet? It was a great time, though. What a magical dark-wood labyrinth that place is, a true oasis. Still, my physical person feels like one of those shadows that gets scorched onto the sidewalk in the face of a nuclear blast?

I always loved how that was our default mode vis-a-vis nature in Miami: the transactional. Like, we'll protect these beaches, nature, so long as you continue to bring us tourists and tans. The Everglades can go screw.

(Let's also talk about that Miami "Like" -- It's, like, so fulsome and candied; it's, like, the sound of a tongue-tip licking the back of upper incisors. How come everything in Miami has soft curves? Or -- let's not alienate the cosmetically altered -- the appearance of soft curves?)

I was also thinking: Remember how Dad used to tell us to go walk down to the bayfront and jam our bloodied or otherwise injured limbs into the ocean? Because "the seawater is good for what ails you"? Remember how he waded up to his neck, fully clothed, into Biscayne Bay, hat on and cigarette smoldering, and just stared into the horizon for a solid 45 minutes? I believe that was during a Fourth of July celebration.

There's something intensely interesting and maybe beautiful, to me, about peninsulas. You're dangled into the ocean like bait. You're surrounded on three sides by the very thing that (in the case of Florida) will undoubtedly swamp you, return you to your watery grave. You get to pretend that you're on this island -- and yet there remains the possibility of escape. If you wish to am-scray when the barometric pressure drops, and the wind rushes in, and the klaxons wail -- well, that's your call to make, bro.

Is “exorcism” a good metaphor for some of the writing in here? Sure, but so long as we're going to envision it as a two-man process, as night-terrorized me trying to cast out or destroy night-terrorizer me, I'd prefer the conceit of I Am Legend. The book, of course; never the movie. I love the idea of using what little daylight remains to go around staking my monsters while they're in remission -- only, is this even the right thing to do? Is this heroic? Or are my attempts at being the good guy also inherently monstrous?

Again, though, you're right -- there is no cure. The only treatment is doing the work itself. Doing the work = making the insulin. That's what I got out of writing this book. I haven't been trying to be a "writer" for very long, ten years, tops, but that's what I've learned. That whatever impels me to do this is only slaked by the process itself. That's where the joy lies. That's the only place it can lie. Once the product (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, but at least I didn't say "content") is finished, it's just a monument to the joy I felt in creating it. Seeing this hardcover propped up on a table at a signing -- it’s a back-canting headstone. I don't know that there'll come a moment when I feel "normal," where I wake up feeling as though every bright, sunshine-y day is a true gift. Where I'll be "happy," continuously and hereafter. I have to work to remind myself of that. For me, there is no "fix." No switch to flip.

Though I have come to a better understanding of my own ill manners + tendencies through the writing of this book. The writing of this book has certainly, certainly gotten me to countenance the things that make me (and the people who might feel as though they’re a little similar to me) who and what I am. The old saw about writing, especially essayistic writing, is that you never know where you stand or what you think until you sit down and actually write it out, right? Well, that's what this did for me. It finally forced me to figure out what I think, why I think that way, who I actually am, why I'm that way, and how (maybe) to be better. Which, of course, is one of the joys of "process," as we've described it. What an absolute privilege, that my "job" is to take a torch and helmet and go spelunking into the deepest recesses of my self and consciousness, as well as the selves and consciousnesses of others.

But, yeah, there's no Grail to find and drink from, no elixir that will transform me. Writing this book helped me to understand that this is an ongoing process, a thing that I have to get up and do every day: try to be better, try to be more open, try to let others in, try to be more vulnerable. I have to keep my hand open, quarter on my palm, even when someone looks like they're coming in to grab it. And even if they are coming in to grab it, well, that's ok, they probably need that quarter more than I do.

One thing I wanted to know: Do you find yourself gravitating toward like-minded people re: literariness, love of literature, whatever? Because I absolutely do not. And this ties into the project of opening up -- one problem I have is I feel incredibly threatened if there are other "writers" around. I feel as though, surely, I will be found out as a fraud, and found out with the quickness. I immediately taste the rainbow of my inadequacies, Skittles-style, and duck the F out. I don't think it's that I need to feel as though I'm the special consciousness, I'm the beautiful artistic flower in the group -- I think it's that I need to surround myself with people who have little to no interest in what I do, so that that way I don't feel as though I have to constantly engage in a shelf-measuring contest.

This, I know, is facocta. (You also don’t have to remark on this.)

Remember how Mom and Dad used to take us to the Borders on US-1 once a week, and we each got to pick out a book? What would you get? I would always run to the sci-fi shelf and pick out the book with the dopest cover illustration, the baddest-assed embossing. (I still want to run to that shelf, but alas, brain won’t let me.)

Sorry for the delay, Kent! I got shy again. I mean, I am so proud to get to do an interview like this with you -- for how many Miami moons did we blast Akon and dream of this moment? But you know, I think there are some questions that I am just going to have to ask you in private.

Hey, are you finding it weird to answer strangers’ questions about the book you made? I’m looking at a picture of you from your Miami trip, where you are standing in our old high school, apparently lecturing on “being a writer” to a bunch of Gables sophomores in the chem lab. It’s hilarious to see your face superimposed against your face on the book jacket. Who could have predicted this turn of events? Not Mr. Bacardi! Did you guys learn anything in that chemistry lab? We mostly stenciled boners onto the aprons, and "flirted" by setting our hands on fire with the bunsen burners. Now, you have returned, a native son, to inspire and/or to frighten and baffle everyone. This life will surprise you.

I ask because I've always found the promotional side a little difficult. And I'm sure it's even harder, in some ways, when you appear as a character in your own book. It seems that for whatever reason, I am far more comfortable speaking as a horse on the moon or a talking lampshade than I am speaking under my own name. It's a tricky dance, to be a public self.

For example, we both hugely respect our mother and our father, and I keep thinking this would be a nice venue to give props, especially since our father recently discovered the Internet, and he now uses it as a sort of Oracle, to show him his children, and also the tides and the moons, and Taylor Swift songs. But I just can't devise the right question, and anyhow, I'm not sure that's a conversation we need to have up here...but I do think it's worth saying, since the good people at Salon gave us this chance, that our parents are wonderful humans, deeply kind and deeply hilarious. They are surely the reason that we made it to this surreal moment, where we get to wild out as writers.

OK, back to the questions I can ask and answer...oh my Jesus, Kent, I can relate to everything you said about taking evasive action, doing some fancy footwork around the Cruel Puritanical You-Must-Be-Working-At-All-Hours Brain, in order to get yourself into the dream time. When we went to that Dixie Highway Borders, I would get a "fun" book, the ones with the badass embossing, and a monster on the spine, and a "literary" book: a Bronte sister, say, or "The Count of Monte Cristo." It took years for me to undo that binary view of fiction as either "genre" or "literature." Although I must have been aware, even then, that there were ghosts in Jane Eyre and gorgeous language in "Dune" and Octavia Butler.

Let me ask you: You were a journalism major, and a Russian major, inspiring one of our dad's greatest jokes, referenced in your book. And you wrote for the paper in Orlando. When did you realize that newspaper journalism was not for you? Maybe now is also the time to ask you, before everyone starts bleeding out of their eyeballs and begging us to please shut up, to talk about your sort of radical idea for the structure of "I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son." Were there any models for the book you wanted to write? Did you ever have second thoughts, as you fashioned this Kent-placenta to hold the essays? What did you want those interstitials to do, what did they permit you to reveal to readers that you wanted seen and known, that wouldn't have been visible in a more straightforward collection?

Shout-out to Mom & Dad for sure though. It's gotta be tough -- sitting silent in the audience, watching as your progeny stage unauthorized, based-on-a-true-story-or-at-least-'true'-as-in,-like,-the-emotional-color-and-temperature-of-the-true-story puppet shows. But they know how much we love and cherish them. And if they don't know -- now they know.

But yeah, our tone, our tenor, our devotional natures, our humor, our sense of duty, our inability to be concise or ever shut our mouths: Dad. In Russellhaus, we 'inherited' all that stuff just as one would 'inherit' tuberculosis in a field hospital. Mom, though: She flooded our psyches with kindness, charity, justice, open-mindedness, and a Gibraltar-like stoicism. Swamped us with the bleeding heart of JC like she was that elevator that opens up in the lobby of the Overlook Hotel.

Remember when we, as a family, went to the Overlook Hotel this past August??

I was a journalism major because I figured maybe one day I could be a hockey beat writer. Hockey was something I loved (/love) intensely; I figured, why wouldn't I choose the job that would let me be around the thing I loved on a daily basis? Of course, that never happened, but the impetus remains the same. I wouldn't call myself a "journalist," per se. I have too much respect for actual journalists, for the people who speak truth to power and work to make the world a better place on a daily basis. But I still consider myself so lucky and so privileged to kind-of-sort-of make a living putting myself around the things that I love or am fascinated by.

As for why I never could hack it as a newspaper reporter: I realized pretty early on that I don't have that doggedness, that tenacity, that ability to get up every day and go out and talk to people and find the story and scoop the scoops. It's just not in my nature. I much prefer to slink back, stay on the outside, hang out, observe, let my mind make connections. In hockey, you call such an asshole a "perimeter player." "Perimeter players" never dive into the harrowing net-front Thermopylae; thus, they never stick in the National Hockey League. They have to ply their trade in the more pacific leagues of Russia, where they die in seasonal plane crashes.

To be honest -- and this isn't meant as horn-tooting -- I didn't really have a model for this book. I mean, essay collections were what made me want to be a writer. I first discovered them at the University of Florida's Smathers Library. I would walk over there at like 10:30 pm every other night, once my hockey team had finished pissing me off. To cool down, I'd wander the stacks, pluck books. I came across David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing...," and I remember I didn't sleep that night. I just slowly ratcheted upright in my bed, hugely exciting by the idea that, Holy fucking shit, you can do this??? You can go out and try to make sense of the world and write it up in the style of the voice in your head? I knew then and there that that's what I had to do. I am aware of the fact that me saying that is annoying and apocryphal, but it's also true. When I got around to Didion and J.J. Sullivan and all the rest, I knew it was game over. Another white dude in glasses was coming to tell the world what it looked like, to him, a white dude in glasses.

But the thing about such collections -- maybe less so with Didion -- is that they always feel like victory laps. They’re the braided laurels of accomplishments past. They're greatest-hits collections, purchased only by the completists. As much as I loved (/love) them, I knew I wanted to write something different. There was a through-line, a compulsion to everything I was writing. These stories were springing, a la Tolkien's orcs, from the mud of my subconscious, from this grody well of questions I had re: Why am I like this? Why is our family like this? Why are dudes -- especially American dudes -- like this? As you well know, a story collection needn't have interstitial ligature to hold it together. But, I mean -- there's a scene in Terminator 2, where Arnold has to convince the scientist's family that he really is what he's saying he is (in this case, a robot from the future), and that the world really is going to end, etc. They're not really buying it until he slices open his arm and pulls away the skin, showing them what lies beneath. (In this case, a robot from the future.) I wanted people to see that this -- the reported stories, the essays, the memoir, the interstitials -- was all of one body.

And, of course, there isn't a 1:1 ratio between me on the page and me in real life. Ain't nobody got time for a lecture on personas or Vivian Gornick's invaluable "The Situation and the Story." But, yeah. I wanted to be the host. In both senses of the word. I wanted to be the emcee as well as the pathological organism.

OK, I'm gonna let you close it out: Ghosts. Ghost stories. The idea of "haunting." How do you think we come at ghosts and hauntings in the things we write? Why do you think we're so drawn to that?

Oh, I think you've already given a pretty eloquent answer to that question in that same Savini essay: "We -- or at least I -- love horror and zombies and gore because it's all apocalyptic, necessarily so. I mean this in the original sense of the word, of the nature of a revelation or disclosure....What resonates, I think, is the suggestion that I'm haunted by a force majeure. The idea that there's this entity -- be it collective like zombies or individual like Jason or even insubstantial like a damn ghost -- and this entity is relentlessly after me. Besieging."

To that, I'd just add that I have a friend, this brilliant woman, Avery Gordon, who wrote a book called "Haunting and the Sociological Imagination." In it, she says that "a ghost is a something to be done." Some balance has been knocked loose, and out of that chaos, the ghost appears, demanding some kind of redress. So you're right about the potential of a haunting to reveal something, to be an engine of revelation. And I think that fiction is already a kind of haunted house, a ghost palace, the illusion you can enter, to confront the forces that are invisible from your sight in life. There's a Jerome Cohen quote I like alot, too: "Monsters are difference made flesh, come to walk among us." So ghosts offer that opportunity: you can see, glowing before you, some excised scrap of memory, some vanished chance, some bad recurring dream converted into a person, "the face you recognize but cannot name."

Actually, writing does that too, doesn't it? I think my inclination towards ghost stories is not far off from your answer to the exorcism question. Kelly Link, another writer I just flat out love, says that ghosts are "a flexible metaphor."

I see that you dedicate the book, “For All Russells Everywhere.” This made me really happy, and the first visual I got was of that dog we saw marooned on an island in the Dinner Key Marina, which we immediately identified as a shaggy, transmuted member of our family. Look, it's hard for me to imagine anybody volitionally wanting to join our family...but I do love the idea of your book as like a Russell Bat Signal in the night. Who are you imagining will respond? How are you defining a Russell? Are terrible teeth a requirement?

If your teeth look like corn kernels -- you're in.

Nah, I think it was E.M. Cioran, philosopher-king of the Russells, who set out this tribe's requirements when he wrote of his "weakness for doomed dynasties, for decaying empires, for the Montezumas of forever, for those who believe in signs, for the lacerated and pursued, for the drunkards of the ineluctable, for the jeopardized, the devoured, for all who are waiting for their executioner."

If any of that that checked a box? If you find yourself preferring the company of people who paint with fists and elbows? Who root exclusively for the underdog? Who firmly believe, Woe be unto him whom all men speak well of? Who wish that they loved more than they currently love but nevertheless love with all their might? Who goad life into charging by flourishing the dirty capes of their hearts?

If any of that warmed cockles? Welcome to the family.

(Too much?)

Oh, most definitely. But then, why stop the Vengabus now? It never had a brake system to begin with, did it?

By Karen Russell

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