‘The Prospectors’ by Karen Russell

Russell, Karen 2015

The Prospectors by Karen Russell, 2015

The magic trick:

Creating a mesmerizing setting

We’re off to Oregon this week. Karen Russell, an absolute master of setting, starts us off in picturesque, weird 1930s Oregon.

“The Prospectors” is a little like the Sophia Coppola movie, “The Bling Ring,” and a lot like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story, “The Diamond As Big As The Ritz.” It’s the story of… well, I don’t know exactly. Social class? Friendship dynamics? Women’s independence? Materialism? The impermanence of time?

Russell throws a whole lot at the wall and doesn’t seem concerned to even notice what sticks. The stoy’s plot and its deluge of symbols and metaphors tumble down onto the reader in parallel lines, only occasionally intersecting. Well, that’s a problem. When the symbolism doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the narrative, all analysis is rendered nearly useless.

Fortunately, the setting is so alluring it doesn’t matter. The 1930s ski lodge is a wonderfully haunting place for the reader’s mind to occupy for 45 minutes of reading time. Literary analysis be damned. And that’s quite a trick on Russell’s part.

The selection:

The lodge was a true palace. Its shadow alone seemed to cover fifty acres of snow. Electricity raised a yellowish aura around it, so that the resort loomed like a bubble pitched against the mountain sky. Its A-frame reared out of the woods with the insensate authority of any redwood tree. Lights blazed in every window. As we drew closer, we saw faces peering down at us from several of these.

The terror was still with us. The speed of the ascent. My blood felt carbonated. Six feet ahead of us, Not-Eugene, whose name we’d failed to catch, swung the battery-powered lamp above his head and guided us through a whale-gray tunnel made of ice. “Quite the runway to a party, eh?”

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