the guardian Fri 08 August 2008
Russell's explosively imaginative stories explore an adolescent hinterland, gradually unfurling to encompass a more ominous and unaccommodating world. Full of a lively sense of the fantastical, the stories also inhabit a beautifully realised natural environment of starlit skies, phosphorescent caves and abundant animal life. Performance is a dominant theme, from ice-skating apes to the alligators which captivate tourists in the theme park "Swamplandia!". These displays mirror the brave face put on by so many of Russell's characters, such as the group of girls raised by wolves who embark on a painful process of re-civilisation at the hands of nuns, hiding their frailties and trying to operate as best they can within socially accepted norms. Meanwhile, feelings of alienation accompany awkwardly expanding bodies and uneasy relationships with often absent parents. As she explores the existential angst of her characters, Russell's injection of a sense of the absurd lends an originality and lightness of touch to this creatively acrobatic debut.