A Response to Russell’s ‘St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves’

I am a huge fan of science fiction, so I was surprised to find myself less than impressed upon finishing Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Perhaps I was disappointed in the short story because I’ve spent a lot of time reading stories and novels of this genre and have high expectations, but I feel Russell could have done a much better job presenting her ideas to the reader.

One problem I have with this story is its vagueness; yes, mystery can be an effective tool to keep the reader’s interest, but too much abstruseness can confuse or distract the reader. Throughout the entire story, I was anticipating a description of the halfbreed girls – do they appear fully human, or are they covered in fur? I was surprised that a better description wasn’t provided on the first page, but I had hope that it would come later. I ended up let down and left with a lot of questions.

In a different genre of fiction, leaving the characters appearances up to the reader’s imagination works just fine – the reader can often place herself into a character’s shoes and construct the character’s appearance as she likes – but this doesn’t work as well for science fiction. Because Russell introduces a new way of looking at werewolves (or at least new to me since this was the first story I read about werewolves having human offspring), the reader cannot simply refer to more common descriptions of the beings. Not only did I question what the halfbreed humans looked like, I also wondered about their purebred werewolf parents. For example, when Claudette, the narrator, goes back to visit her family and they are feeding, are they in full-on wolf form, or have they transitioned into humans?

Though it was an entertaining read, the story’s lack of information distracted me quite a bit; the amount of mystery Russell chose to include in her story did not work to her advantage. Since she is writing science fiction and is choosing to create her own world, she should paint a picture for the reader of how this world looks and operates. Since her way of looking at werewolves is so unique, Russell’s story could have been a lot better had it been told more effectively.

I don’t mean for this review to be completely negative, because the story was certainly fun to read, and I don’t doubt that Karen Russell is a good writer – some of her prose was quite lovely. However, she neglected to tell what I feel are imperative parts of the story. Her idea could easily be made into a full novel that actually explained in more depth the steps the girls went through to become civilized, and perhaps that is why it fails for me: it covers too much for its length and leaves too many questions unanswered.

Because my curiosity about the characters’ appearances was not satisfied, I searched for any cover art of the story in case it would help. The three different covers I found do not really help at all, except for maybe letting me assume the parents are full-on wolves. I still don’t know what to think of the daughters.

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