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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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Swamplandia!

by Karen Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,1141573,108 (3.33)1 / 397
  1. 40
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    BookshelfMonstrosity: Replete with eccentric families and mythic overtones, these larger-than-life novels are exuberantly offbeat. Big Fish depicts a son's quest to know his dying (and lying!) father better, while Swamplandia! relates the struggle of two pre-teens to protect their family's alligator-wrestling theme park.… (more)
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    BookshelfMonstrosity: These character-driven novels share a theme of unconventional families coping with mothers taken by cancer. Russell's setting gives a strong sense of place in Florida, Patchett's an atmospheric Boston. Honest, thoughtful, thorough portrayals of complicated characters and relationships distinguish both.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
Loved the Bigtree characters, but felt the plot was too draggy and about 100 pages too long. I hated the Bird Man character, he seemed so contrived. A bit of a chore to work my way through to the end. ( )
  mojomomma | Jul 15, 2015 |
At first I thought Russell had already covered all the territory of this book in her short story "Ava Wrestles the Alligators." The novel read, from the start, like a stretched-out exploration of the story's wacky, threatening landscape, goofy characters and ghostly happenings.

Then it got deeper. In Russell's imagination, as her characters edge toward the abyss, her writing becomes more lyrical and luminous. The Dredgeman's Revelation, which takes place on a 1930s barge, is one of the most beautiful chapters in the book despite its horror.

In later chapters I almost couldn't bear to keep reading, yet I was so desperate to find out what happened to the Bigtrees that I was cheating, skimming pages, hoping my fears wouldn't be realized. Russell's portrayal of the girls' loss of innocence is crushing, yet fully believable. The end of the book is a wounded, incomplete reconciliation, like an injured bird coming to rest.

I understand that the Pulitzer judges couldn't reach a majority vote and so decided not to give the prize last year, but Swamplandia! would have been worthy of the award. ( )
  amymerrick | Jun 3, 2015 |
Tale of family living in coastal Florida, running a reptile wrestling tourist attraction. Highly dysfunctional already, things take a nasty turn when the mother passes away. Told in alternating voices between the son and youngest daughter. Often wonderfully descriptive, both children are at times worldly beyond their years and yet also quite naive. While beautiful writing and a turn to the mystical might have saved the story, for me, a difficult read due to varying aspects of child abuse. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Jun 2, 2015 |
Infused with elements of particular brand (read: Southern) of magical realism, Russell's novel takes us to the shadowy boundaries of reality and mysticism. I found the characters to be compelling, though many others complained of the divergent story lines. I found these separate, yet interdependent narratives, to helpful in both clarifying and stratifying each member of the Bigtree family's reaction to tragedy. I agree with the NYT's assessment of “Swamplandia!” as rooted in the Bigtree family’s emotional reality. As they say, "Take away the wall-to-wall literary embellishments, and this is a recognizable story, if not a familiar one".

If cornered to describe Russell's work in one word, it would most certainly have to be "haunting". This "haunting" transcends even the immediate tragedy of the family, and takes on historical/cultural dimensions, as Swamplandia! sits upon the terrain of a Florida swamp whose history has been bloodied by imperial conflict and environmental devastation. ( )
  Casey_Marie | Apr 27, 2015 |
I may be a native South Floridian and nearly lifetime resident, but as much as I tried to like this novel, as much as I tried to care about the young heroine and her family, as much as I've always enjoyed magical realism, and as much as I seek out new and new-to-me writers, I just couldn't bring myself to appreciate Swamplandia!, nor understand why all the accolades for Russell's debut novel.

Perhaps if I'd read the text rather than listening to an audiobook, I would have approached the novel on a more neutral plane. Admittedly, a spoken book is performance art, somewhat like a Theater of the Invisible than being read aloud to by a person who's in your presence. So, my expectation bar may be set a notch higher.

Mostly, I became annoyed by the unrestricted overly quirky characters who seemed to acquire and require additional layers of weirdness as the novel proceeded. For all my years of growing up and living on both coasts of Florida, and while I've known quite a few characters, I never met that number of decidedly way beyond the norm folks. So, I could not suspend my disbelief as I'm normally able to do when the quirky are at the same time believable like Ignatius in A Confederacy of Dunces is. Instead of finding that Russell's cast grew on me, I found that I grew tired of them. Consequently. I didn't read the novel to the bitter end. ( )
  Limelite | Apr 4, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
Karen Russell, one of the New Yorker's 20 best writers under 40, is certainly very talented. She received wide acclaim for her first book, the story collection St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which first introduced the Bigtree family in the story "Ava Wrestles the Alligator". This novel has already received great reviews in the US, and it's easy to see why. Many of her descriptions are quite dazzling. On the retirement boat, "The seniors got issued these pastel pajamas that made them look like Easter eggs in wheelchairs." In the swamp, "two black branches spooned out of the same wide trunk. They looked like mirror images, these branches, thin and papery and perfectly cupped, blue sky shining between them, and an egret sat on the scooped air like a pearl earring."

Over 300 pages, the density of the prose can become a bit exhausting, however, and Russell's ability to describe everything in minute and quirky detail is sometimes overwhelming.
 
Toward the end, the narrative takes an unexpected turn, finally unraveling its intricate balance between a child's stubborn imagination and the stark horrors of reality.
added by WeeklyAlibi | editWeekly Alibi, Sam Adams (Feb 24, 2011)
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gall, JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"I see nobody on the road," said Alice. "I only wish that I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!" --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
Dedication
For my family
First words
Our mother performed in starlight.
Quotations
The lake was planked with great gray and black bodies.  Hilola Bigtree had to hit the water with perfect precision, making incremental adjustments midair to avoid the gators.
The Chief blinked and blinked, as if he had momentarily blinded himself with his own silver lining.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
As their island home and alligator-wrestling theme park is threatened by a sophisticated competitor, twelve-year-old Ava struggles to cope with her mother's death while her sister, brother, and father all try to deal with their grief in their own unusual ways.
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This novel takes us to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine. The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator wrestling theme park, formerly no. 1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava's mother, the park's indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava's father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL, and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety eight gators as well as her own grief. Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, the author has written a novel about a family's struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking.… (more)

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