What’s The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis all about?:
The final story in Karen Russell’s excellent short story collection focuses on a group of school friends who come across a scarecrow tied to a tree in a park that bears a striking resemblance to a young boy that they used to bully.
What did I think?:
There has been some real corkers of stories (and very few damp squibs!) in Vampires In The Lemon Grove, which was the first thing I’ve read from the author, Karen Russell. Looking back on the collection now I’ve completed it, stand out favourites for me have to include Reeling For The Empire, The Barn At The End Of Our Term and Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating so I have to admit, I was expecting great things for the final story. To be honest, I was left feeling slightly disappointed by the ending as I felt the story had SO much more potential and things sort of… well, fizzled out by the end, with no clear indications of what was going to happen.
Generally, this story had a strong sense of Stephen King about it. (If you didn’t know, I’m a huge SK fan and that’s therefore a massive compliment!). The main protagonist is a young boy, part of a gang of friends known locally as Camp Dark – don’t judge them on the name, they designed it when they were much younger. One day in their local hang-out they see something that shocks them to their very core. It’s a scarecrow, tied to a tree. However, this is no ordinary scarecrow, it looks frighteningly familiar and then they figure out that the wax face attached to the scarecrow resembles a young boy that used to attend their school, Eric Mutis whom they nicknamed “Mutant” due to him looking a bit different and suffering from epilepsy. They used to bully this boy mercilessly whilst he was at the school, fists and all, but he’s recently disappeared, never to be seen again – until now.
The scarecrow freaks them all out, especially our main protagonist who seems to be dogged with guilt about the way he treated Eric whilst he was at school with them. Then strangely enough, pieces of the scarecrow start to go missing. At first, the other boys think our protagonist is to blame and he is playing a trick on them but this certainly is not the case. Bit by bit, the scarecrow continues to lose his appendages until just his head is left and each day as this happens, our boy feels more and more scared and regretful of his past actions.
This story had such an interesting premise and I was hooked most of the way through, intrigued to find out exactly what was happening and if the scarecrow had a darker message behind it. It was fast paced and more than a little creepy as the author plays on the reader’s emotions, the mystery of the situation and the darker secret that our protagonist holds that the rest of the gang was completely unaware of. I was however, very disappointed by the ending and did feel it had the potential to finish on a “bang,” rather than fizzle out the way I felt it did. Please don’t let my opinion put you off though – the build up on this story is very intense and what I may have disliked, many other readers may love.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes