20 Under 40: A Comprehensive (Subjective) Guide

Karen Russell, “The Dredgeman’s Revelation,” July 26:

Karen Russell
Joanne Chan

It’s unclear whether this is part of a bigger novel or not. Russell has one coming soon on February 1, called Swamplandia! That would seem to be the obvious source, but in the New Yorker Q&A she seems to suggest that this is separate from the book, calling it “a little story within the story.”

Anyway, I really liked this one. It’s a cousin to Bynum’s “Erlking” in its horrifying ending, but before it gets there it’s a slow, easy story about a likeable boy, unfortunately named Louis Thanksgiving, that runs away from home and finds work as a dredgeman in a Florida swamp. He bonds with the other men (he’s by far the youngest) and also annoys them by always being cheerful and excited, while they’re all cynical and resentful of the difficult work.

Louis is very endearing and that helps the story, along with Russell’s quirky humor and strange, exciting setting. But the ending. Wow. Vultures appear above the boat: “the birds descended on Gideon and hooked the prongs of their talons into his skin; perhaps a dozen of them lifted him into the sky. Gid’s body shrank into the cloudless expanse.” Russell noted in the Q&A a “Hitchcockian” feel, and she’s damn right. It’s terrific, and makes this one of the most memorable stories in the series.

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