In "Reeling for the Empire," one of eight stories in Karen Russell's "Vampires in the Lemon Grove," a young woman in 19th-century Japan falls for the dubious charms of a "recruitment agent" and soon finds herself in a life-draining job in a silk factory.

This being Russell -- author of the wildly imaginative, gorgeously written "Swamplandia!" -- the young woman lands in the twilight zone, where each female factory employee becomes a "secret, furred and fleshy silk factory" who eats mulberry leaves and attaches herself to a machine that gathers the silk she secretes.

Like intrepid 13-year-old Ava in "Swamplandia!" many characters in these stories are simultaneously impatient to grow up and horrified by the changes they experience. Desire never brings peace. No matter how exciting, it is always troubling also.

In the story "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979," for instance, a 14-year-old boy has a crush on a classmate -- only to see her take up with his older brother instead. He wants to be a good sport, but can't outrun his barely acknowledged hatred and lust.

In the title story, a vampire fails at trying to curb the craving for blood that prevents him from settling into a normal marriage, in which desire can be satisfied, rather than repressed.

Alfred A. Knopf

$24.95, 256 pages



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