On Karen Russell’s “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis”


Posted by Tobias Carroll

If there was one signal I got from the world around me last week, it was this: I need to read more of Karen Russell’s work. Swamplandia! has been earning fine reviews right and left; besides that, two astute friends with fine taste in all things literary expressed surprise when I mentioned that I hadn’t yet read any of her fiction. Clearly, this needed to change.

I was then reminded that I did. in fact, have some of Russell’s work nearby after all: her story “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” appeared in the latest issue of Conjunctions. I opened up said issue and began to read.

There’s a scarecrow, and housing projects, and the usual awful things that boys do to one another when they’re fourteen. The way in which Russell plays with expectations here is awfully good: the story begins with a group of four friends discovering an ornately-made scarecrow in a park, and proceeds from there. A sinister mood is established from the outset*; the question that hangs relates to the nature of its cause. It sits somewhere between the Gothic and the kitchen-sink realistic; that it can sustain that tone throughout is even more impressive. Plus, it’s incredibly unsettling in places; that’s always a plus.

*-to the extent that at one point, I began listening to music because reading the story in the silence of my apartment was getting unbearable.