Karen Russell “The Dredgeman’s Revelation”
The New Yorker Fiction: 20 Under 40
July 26, 2010 issue

This is the first of The New Yorker’s 20Under40 stories that has left me feeling absolutely certain that I’ll be following up with a longer work by the writer. (Not including the writers whose work had already taken root on my TBR list: Ferris, Foer, Krauss, Li.)

Although I’ve enjoyed a number of the stories featured, my TBR read is long and Karen Russell’s story has demanded priority for her 2006 collection (St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves) and a space reserved for her 2011 novel (Swamplandia).

I find this funny because it was one of the stories I was dreading: “The dredgeman had a name, Louis Thanksgiving Auschenbless, but lately he preferred to think of himself as a profession.” The opening sentence did nothing to attract my interest, and I even cleaned the silverware drawer before finally getting on with the story.

But by the time I got to the second column, I was involved and intrigued: “One thing about me, though…sort of interesting thing I guess, is that I was born dead.” Yes, Louis Thanksgiving, now 17, was born dead. And that is interesting.

Not only is it interesting, but given the title (a ‘revelation’ being a disclosure of divine or supernatural knowledge to humankind), the reader is nudged into knowing that there is something extraordinary afoot.

Karen Russell’s use of language in this story is remarkable: I had to mark several passages and re-read them to savour them.

The swamps of 1930s Florida come alive in her narrative, so that I practically found myself itching from the mosquitoes and swaying from the heat and fecundity.

And Louis soaks the pages: even though the sentence of his introduction pushed me away, by the second page of the story I felt I was right beside him on the barge, in the company of recognizable secondary characters who, nonetheless, held their own shape in the background.

For me, “The Dredgeman’s Revelation” had all the ingredients of a good story, with the added bonus of feeling as though I could happily re-read immediately upon finishing. On the final page, in the wake of a disaster, the story takes a turn, transforming the events that have come before into something Else, something Other.

Suddenly brief allusions my eyes slipped over earlier stood out starkly. Seemingly offhanded references to Narcissus (obsessed with his own reflection he was turned into a plant, forever gazing at itself in the water) and the Ancient Mariner (doomed to wear an albatross around his neck and recount his guilty tale as a lesson to anyone who will listen). Yes, definitely worth a re-read.

And I’ll definitely be looking out for this collection.

The story is available here. Her Q&A is available here. And you can also listen to her read a Carson McCullers’ story here and discuss it with TNY’s fiction editor.

What’s the last story you read that immediately made you want to re-read?
Thoughts on Karen Russell’s writing?