Karen Russell's collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, her newest book after the 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist Swamplandia!, is a procession of unlikely scenarios. A vampire in the title story experiences immortality through the lens of an endless relationship with his wife; a young boy hoping to help his homesteading parents prove their claim on the land is met by a grimly familiar stranger; a massage therapist finds herself shifting a veteran's combat memories by manipulating his tattoos. Over and over again, Russell places her characters in contact with a literal manifestation of their fears, desires, and dreams. The internal is made external, the surreal imbued with the reality of sincere feeling.
In his first book of literary nonfiction, David McConnell's approach is effective because it's not academic: through extensive research, he's crafted engaging narratives, each populated by characters that demand our attention. We owe each killer the same care and consideration we afford the characters in our favorite novels, remembering that they are nothing if not reflections of ourselves, our culture.
The New Mind of the South is Tracy Thompson's ambitious sociological analysis of our mystifying region. While the title of the book consciously riffs on The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash's sanguine exercise in self-loathing, published in 1941 and still largely considered one of the more profound examinations of our regional attitude, Thompson's work does less to encapsulate a consciousness than examine facets of her biography against the drastically altered socioeconomic landscape of the South.
Casey Clabough's first novel, Confederado, centers on Alvis Benjamin Stevens, a Central Virginian who returns home four months after the end of the Civil War to find his only potential solace—the house and family he has longed to return to—destroyed, scattered, or, perhaps worst of all, almost entirely transformed.
Most Americans are now entrenched in something like a partisan apathy toward the Iraq War, which is as woven into the absurdity of the twenty-four-hour news cycle as any other inanity, indistinguishable from the deluge of background noise. It's a stiff task to expect any novelist to thrive in so crowded an imaginative space, so it was a relief to this reader that 2012 saw the success of two major Iraq War novels.