Short Stories Challenge – The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Published April 22, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 all about?:

From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russells gifts at their inimitable best.

The third story in this collection involves a dejected teenager who discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.

What did I think?:

Before beginning my short stories challenge, I had never previously read any of Karen Russell’s work, although her novel Swamplandia is on my TBR list that I mean to get to at some point! This latest story (I won’t type the long title yet again) involves a young man called Nal whom at the time when we are introduced to him is not having a very good time of it. Firstly he is worried about his mother who has recently been made unemployed and seems to be spiralling into a worrying depression, lying on the sofa all day and making little effort to find another job. Nal is an incredibly intelligent fourteen year old and has been accepted onto an exclusive educational programme which he now cannot attend due to the fees yet he manages to pick up a few part-time jobs to keep money coming into the household.

As well as his worries about his mother, money and future education Nal also has an older brother called Samson who seems to constantly take advantage of his good nature. Through his life, Nal has always felt like he stands in the shadow of his older, better looking and socially gifted brother but when Samson begins to date Vanessa, a girl who Nal himself has been in love with for a long time, it almost feels like the last straw. However on July 11th, 1979 Nal begins to notice something increasingly unusual as clouds of gulls begin to descend on the small town; “in numbers unseen since the ornithologists began keeping records of such things.” At first, Nal thinks that a particular gull that he sees often may be his conscience or an omen of something terrible but after finding a nest in the hollow of a tree he notices objects dated from the future that the gulls have hoarded.

This was a very strange but interesting little story and I enjoyed the way in which Karen Russell grabs an idea or concept that is slightly “out there” but makes it work in the concept of the tale. Nal was a brilliant and intriguing character that I found myself rooting for, and I was eager to discover if he would finally get the rewards in life that he deserved. As with the other two stories though, the author likes to keep her reader guessing and draw their own conclusions. The writing is beautiful and inspiring and I always seem to finish her stories wondering where on earth she got her ideas from. Looking forward to the next!

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: A Case of Identity by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


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