Short Stories Challenge – Proving Up by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published September 16, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s Proving Up all about?:

In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear.

What did I think?:

So far in this collection, Reeling For The Empire has been my favourite of the short stories, but it now may have a serious competitor in this little tale, Proving Up. Basically the story focuses on the Zegner family, who used to live in a comfortable house with all luxuries and amenities they could wish for, then they changed their whole lives by colonising some land out in the American West. The move was pre-empted by a political motion known as The Homestead Act which offered many acres of land to families to do with as they pleased. They build a one-roomed mud hut with soil and grass – known collectively as a “sod,” keep their own animals and grow their own crops. The years have not been kind to them however in terms of weather and they have had to experience severe drought and famine and they have tragically also lost three female children in childbirth. Our narrator (the youngest son of the family, Miles) notes that his mother ribs are protruding and “she has not been fat for two years,” which gives the reader a mental image of how she may have looked in the past and the effect starvation has had on her body.

As with everything in life apparently there is a clause in the contract on the land. Each home owner must “prove up” to an Inspector on his rounds after five years of living in their home. There are certain objects that they must have or stipulations that they must demonstrate to the Inspector, and one of these is a glass window. In return, they will receive an official document that proves that they are the rightful owners of their particular piece of land. When we begin the story, the father of the family is incredibly excited as he has heard rumours that the Inspector is on his rounds again and he wishes to help his nearest neighbours by lending them the Zegner’s glass window so they can “prove up,” themselves before the Zegner inspection. Due to the type of land they inhabit, there is very little glass around, and sharing the window between neighbours seems to be a foolproof plan to help all families receive that crucial document. Miles, being a fast rider, is chosen by his father (much to his mother’s dismay) to ride to their neighbours, lend them the glass window and then ride back with it ready for their own inspection.

Miles’ journey on his faithful horse Nero is more difficult and dangerous than he or his family could have imagined, although it is clear that his mother desperately doesn’t want him to go, dismissing tales of the Inspector as “smoke” as she does not believe he exists. But the thought of actually owning his own land after five years of hardship and tragedy is too precious for his father to lose, so off Miles trots (or Nero trots…Miles just rides)! This is when the story started becoming incredibly eerie and it’s hard to describe without giving too much away. All I can assure you is that my heart was in my mouth the entire time, and I became stupidly sensitive and jumpy for example, at the slamming of a door. I found myself becoming so engrossed in the story that I actually had to look away for a few minutes to process everything that was going on. This is another amazing story from Karen Russell about the greed of man and his thirst for something bigger and better no matter what it costs.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY – The Boscombe Valley Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

One comment on “Short Stories Challenge – Proving Up by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

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