5 thoughts on ““The Bog Girl,” by Karen Russell”

  1. 30% through; this is more surrealist than straight fantasy.

    It’d be very interesting to compare this to "Breaking Water," which we discussed previously ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/997992420273246/permalink/1054920477913773/ ). There’s a very similar concept, of a man insisting a dead woman is his wife.
    I’m also thinking it might compare interestingly to Ted Kosmatka’s "The Stone War" in F&SF, where a stone statue is utterly still *except* if attacked – reflecting different people’s interpretations of his passivity with perfect justice.

  2. Ultimately, it’s an OK story; it didn’t quite work for me.

    It has some funny jabs around the Bog Girl always being still and silent; I like how Russell keeps managing to write that in ways that make sense to the scene.

    But that stood at odds with the awful, surrealistic nature of what was going on… and that didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, once the premise is established. It’s just kind of "this is going to continue awful."

    The finale is appropriate; when the girl actually *does* come to life, it puts the lie to Cillian’s love for her – he was never ready to love a breathing, living woman.

    So… it’s OK. Its core is fairly simple, and I don’t feel it stretches beyond that in any way. The surrealism is clear, but somewhat monotonous.

  3. I listened to the Storyological podcast the other day, which was fun. 🙂
    What interested me here was that their focus for "The Bog Girl" was on the relationship between Killian and his mother. They admired it for capturing the feeling of having your child go off in a strange, alien, possibly dangerous direction – and forcing yourself to accept that.

    I confess I hadn’t read that element as central, but I can definitely see why they liked it.

  4. The author’s interview (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/fiction-this-week-karen-russell-2016-06-20) is quite excellent. I almost feel like quoting large chunks of it, when it reflects thoughts I had while reading the story.

    It’s a very "New Yorker" sort of story, with its irony, its unsympathetic portrait of "the youth of today", and its arch aside to the reader ("…the archipelago known to older generations as the Four Horsemen. It’s unlikely that you’ve ever visited. It’s not really on the circuit."). I really don’t much care for that style of humor and rarely find it funny. If not for that, I would have liked the story better.

    But Russell in the interview says, "Mary Gaitskill did an interview for this series a while back and gave an answer that I loved: ‘People say that if you talk too much about sex you take away the mystery. I say, if you’re somebody who likes to talk, talk all you want – it’s not listening. You will never take away the mystery.’ I think the same might apply to comedy and mystery, or comedy and dread. No joke is going to rob this ancient landscape of its immense power; no joke is going to make death and suffering more comprehensible. And maybe things are only truly funny if they are connected to an honest question or emotion. So if you’re somebody who likes to joke, go ahead and joke – it’s not listening."

    I could not really agree with this for most of the story; the comedy was dull, the pace was limping, and the story seemed trivial. But when the girl comes to life, suddenly the story comes to life and takes off like a rocket. The ending just about saves the whole thing.

    The central conceit is that the bog girl is just a placeholder, a non-personality who can be fitted into whatever role the people around her think of, be it the girlfriend that Cillian wants and his mother fears, or the perfect high school girl the other girls imagine her as. At the start there seems no reason for a bog girl, in particular, to fill that role. The surrealism seems pointless. But in fact Russell chose her because bog bodies are reminders of a radically alien culture, and the brutally sudden realization of that fact which comes at the end erases everything that other people projected on to her. If you look at the world expecting only a reflection of your own desires, you may get a disconcerting surprise.

    As to the mother-son relationship, I did like some of the observations from Gillian’s point of view– her adjusting to her son’s adolescence was the most successfully depicted "realistic" part of the story. But I’m not sure that this relationship can be considered central to the story because it’s not what’s confronted by the bog girl’s transformation. True, Cillian’s shock sends him back to his mother asking "Who was that?" as if she’d know the answer. That might be another shift in their relationship. But we don’t get Gillian’s answer or any indication of how she’ll feel in the future.

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