Short Stories Challenge – The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published February 24, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s The Barn At The End Of Our Term all about?:

The Barn At The End Of Our Term tells the story of eleven dead former presidents of the United States who find they have been reincarnated as horses in a barn on a small farm.

What did I think?:

This story was absolute brilliancy. Not since I read Reeling For The Empire have I been so excited for a short story from this collection, showing an author who is clearly at the top of her game and ever so unique. The tale begins with a young girl who is feeding a horse fruit, quite unremarkable you might think, until we are shunted into the perspective of the horse who licks the girl’s palm as a sort of code to alert her to the fact that he is Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the nineteenth president of the United States and that the relevant authorities should be informed. Rutherford, our main character in the story, tells the reader how he came to awaken in his new horse body, getting quite a shock when the “donging” noise he hears isn’t in fact a clock but the beating of his large new equine heart. As for the man who whips him and shoves him back in his stall, is he in fact the Devil and Rutherford is in Hell? Yet why does he come to him afterwards crooning with a lump of sugar? Is he then, God?:

“The man seemed a little on the short side to be God. His fly was down, his polka-dotted underclothes exposed. Surely God would not have faded crimson dots on his underclothes? Surely God would wear a belt?”

His confusion only intensifies when he realises he is tethered in stables with ten other former presidents, including Eisenhower, James Garfield and Woodrow Wilson. Conversations with the other presidents leave Rutherford no further forward in deducing whether they are in Heaven, what year they are in (the farmer’s tractor terrifies him enormously) and indeed why they are here. Eisenhower believes that they were put there in order to lead the country again but for that to happen they must escape. James Garfield manages to make it over the awe-inspiring “Fence” to freedom, but as for the rest, they must endure the thought of a new horse coming in – will he also be a president? and hastily arranged meetings behind the bunny barrows to determine what their future should be.

As for Rutherford, all he can focus on is the whereabouts of his wife, Lucy Webb Hayes, who was the first president’s wife to be referred to as a First Lady. At first, he thinks she may be one of the ducks passing by, but settles on a solitary ewe as he feels he sees recognition in her eyes. Unfortunately (and hilariously), Woodrow Wilson informs him, these are cataracts. Rutherford still feels he is right however and trains the sheep to follow him with tid-bits of food until she remains nestled in the same stall as him, eating all his food which leads to him losing weight and becoming dangerously thin. Meanwhile, the other horses talk about their triumphant return to Washington, practising speeches and making notes in the dirt with their hooves. Some of the letters prove terribly tricky, like “S,” and a question mark “?” may cause them to break a leg but they are determined – until the farmer drives over the marks with his tractor, erasing everything one of the president’s has written. Doh!

I’m not going to give away anything else about the story or what happens to Rutherford but I found the whole tale to be intensely satisfying and utterly hilarious. I’m quite notorious in my group of friends in that I rarely read anything that makes me laugh out loud but I’m pleased to announce that time has finally come. Whether it was comparing the farmer and his niece to God and The Angel of Mercy, or poor Rutherford harassing a sheep whom he thought was his wife, I was in stitches almost all the way through. Every story in this collection I’ve read so far has been so different from the last one and I think this just proves what a talented and versatile writer Karen Russell is. Shamefully, I don’t know too much about the former presidents of the States but this didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying this and lapping up every word. I couldn’t also help thinking what Obama would be like as a horse? Anyway, I can’t recommend this story highly enough – read it for yourself and please tell me if you agree!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Five Orange Pips by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

2 comments on “Short Stories Challenge – The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

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