Contemporary author Karen Russell’s surreal novels and short stories all feature outsiders who are attempting to make sense of the world around them and find some kind of place in it, though they are often unsuccessful. In Russell’s works, including in her novel Swamplandia! and her collections of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, characters struggle to discover their identities in the face of a total lack of societal acceptance. Russell portrays characters’ development as they deal with problems ranging from grief to sexual assault, plotting escapes from the homes they despise in an effort to find acceptance. These attempts are fruitless, however, as Russell’s bleak endings to her stories emphasize, and her young protagonists must ultimately come to terms with the fact that acceptance in society is far more complicated than they had anticipated.
Similar to the escape desired by characters from Russell’s works, local New Hampshire boaters are able to escape crowded society by traveling to a group of islands located 10 miles off of the New Hampshire coastline, known as the Isles of Shoals. While vacationers seek serenity and calm, Smuttynose Island, within the Isles of Shoals, is home to gruesome murders that took place in March of 1873. These murders added to the ghostly local legends of the island, now overshadowed by myth and lore. Additionally, Smuttynose has a history of shipwrecked soldiers haunting the island, as well as legends of the pirate Blackbeard, all adding to an already eerie atmosphere. In regards to the 19th century murders, Louis Wagner, the man who rowed a dory 10 miles in the freezing temperatures on the night of March 5, 1873, brutally killed two women with an ax. He hoped to rob the only occupied house on the island, where he knew there was hidden money and vulnerable women. Unfortunately, three women crossed his path while on his way, two of whom he viciously murdered. The one woman who escaped hid under the now infamous rock called “Maren’s Rock,” which remains one of the Island’s main tourist attractions.
Major Works Consulted:
Robinson, Dennis J. Mystery on the Isles of Shoals: Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873. New York: Skyhorse, 2014.
Russell, Karen. Swamplandia! New York: Random, 2011.
---.Vampires in the Lemon Grove. New York: Random, 2013.
Rutledge, Lyman V. The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend. Boston: Star Island Corporation, 1965.
“Karen Russell.” Wikipedia.