Haunting Olivia by Karen Russell

The search for a short story that would entrance me in its world was harder than I thought. I’ve now realized that if the first two sentences of a short story don’t peak my interest, I probably will not read it. In my search, I skipped over an estimate of 5 short stories before I landed on the one I wanted to read. It might have been 6 or 7 stories, but it was during a midnight surge of energy that I looked at these stories, and I honestly don’t remember exactly how many I looked at.

The short story I am reviewing today caught my attention simply because of its title. Karen Russell, an American novelist, created this short story ‘Haunting Olivia’ in 2005. The story, in short, revolves around the journey of two brothers who search the ocean to find the body of their dead sister, Olivia, with a pair of goggles that allows you to see the ghost of things in the ocean. 

The story was…odd. I have never read a story like it before. The two brothers, who are still just children, hold different emotions regarding the death of their little sister who died after being swept away by the ocean’s tide. Though her death is sad and tragic, the death of any child is, it wasn’t what made the story sad, in my opinion. The actions and emotions of the brothers is what made the story so heart-wrenching for me. The oldest brother, Wallow, described as being the tougher counterpart of the duo, expressed feelings of guilt and regret and had the need of telling his sister he was sorry for what happened to her. This alone got me. I can’t imagine losing a sibling and my only need, the only thing that would give me closure, was to say that I am sorry; I felt for Wallow. His brother Timothy, the narrator, didn’t understand Wallow. I feel this is mostly due to the fact Timothy was dealing with his own feelings towards Olivia’s death. Timothy was more on the side of letting Olivia be at rest. He wanted to stop the search and let Olivia be with the dead. He didn’t want to be reminded anymore of how his baby sister was dead. This was the man conflict between Timothy and Wallow. Wallow wanted so badly to find Olivia that he never considered how it must have been for Timothy; he was inadvertently torturing his brother with Olivia’s death. For Wallow, finding Olivia was the only solution to achieving his need of apologizing to Olivia. 

Going past the content of the story, the structure of the short story was well executed. The struggle I face often with short stories is giving a complete story in such a limited amount of time and space. Russell did this well. She layered on parts of the story like Olivia’s death, how it happened, how the parents felt, and other significant issues that went along with Timothy and Wallow’s journey, but she didn’t make them to where they overpowered the overall story of the brothers. In this, she still managed to have a beginning, middle, and end to this story. Her writing style was very clear and kind of bizarre. The plot alone was very absurd and held an eerie feel to it. It almost made me uncomfortable to read considering I, too, am the youngest daughter of two older siblings, and though I am clearly not dead, I often put the faces of my older sister and brother to Timothy and Wallow as I was reading. It was my way of personalizing the story.

Overall, this story was amazing, entertaining, very well- written, and did everything a short story should do for its reader. I would highly recommend take 30-45 minutes out of your day to read this short story and be entranced in the mind of Timothy and the world that surrounds him. 


I’ll post the link to the story here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/06/13/haunting-olivia



Author: Morgan Love

Just a girl trying to find out who she is :) Follow me on this journey of MSA and hopefully this will help you just as much as it helps me. xoxo