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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! (edition 2011)

by Karen Russell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,3241662,716 (3.34)1 / 400
Authors:Karen Russell (Author)
Info:Knopf (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, contemporary American

Work details

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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Showing 1-5 of 165 (next | show all)
I was *so* looking forward to this book. The writing is awesome, and I sincerely admire Russell's command of the English language.

But. I was deeply frustrated, even pained, by this book. I really liked two of the three main characters, and rooted for them, but there were long stretches where I grew impatient with the storyline. One character's particular journey is described in elaborate detail -- it's probably at least a quarter of the book -- but the building of suspense seemed to go too long. By the time I finally started to suspect that something was about to happen, it was with a feeling of dread that it was going to be something I really didn't want to happen... and so of course that's exactly how it went. In all fairness it was a decent twist to the story: just enough foreshadowing that in retrospect it seemed unavoidable, but subtle enough that it still caught me mostly by surprise. Still, even the dreaded Something That Happened left me unfulfilled in the end, because it didn't really resolve, at least to me, in any kind of satisfactory way.

There's also a red alligator that figures in the story for quite awhile, and I kept wanting its importance to be revealed -- surely a red alligator must have some symbolic meaning, right? Or if not symbolic importance, it's such an unusual thing that it must have some massive importance to the storyline! Maybe if I had to write a term paper I could make something up, but if I'm honest with myself... I just didn't get it. I don't know why it's in the story at all, really.

I hate that this is such a negative review, because I do feel strongly about the beauty of Russell's prose. She's a good, maybe even great, writer, and better than a lot of authors I've read this year. But I've found that many times I can overlook mediocre writing when the story is engaging, and here... I guess gorgeous writing didn't really make up for a story that didn't do much for me. Which is a shame. ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
The lead up was pretty amazing, the writing was descriptive, and I loved seeing the mental issues of the narrator come through in the way she spoke. Unfortunately, the ending was pretty unsatisfying compared to how long the leadup was. ( )
  michwellithy | Jan 29, 2016 |
Initially, I felt like I was reading young adult fiction, a more grown up version of Lemony Snickett. Midway, the whimsical aspects confront darker realities. Much of this book could only be fiction and it is challenging to reconcile the fictitious when it confronts reality. I liked parts of the book a lot but found parts disconcerting/disorienting. ( )
  Cricket856 | Jan 25, 2016 |
I'm desperately trying to remember what first attracted me to this book. I remember suggesting it as a book group read early last year (we didn't choose it) and also was keen enough to go and see Karen Russell at the BookFest and to sign up for this BookRay.

The main narrator/voice of this story is Ava Bigtree, a thirteen year old girl living on an island in the Florida Everglades. The family are Aligator Wrestlers and own a theme park: Swamplandia. Almost immediately in the story, Ava's Mother dies and the rest of the book charts the unravelling of the family without her. As the book progresses, the chapters start to alternate between Ava telling her story and the story of Kiwi, her brother, as he tries to make a new life on the mainland. Now I've read a few other's reviews and they all preferred reading Ava's chapters - strangely I prefered Kiwi's, maybe because his seemed more grounded in reality, whilst Ava's needed a bit of a 'suspension of belief'. Much as she had had a sheltered upbringing, living apart from the mainland, and had been home schooled, I found it hard to believe that a 13 year old would be quite so naive and trusting. Her voice didn't quite ring true to me - very adult language, but very childish character. Kiwi, on the other hand, did ring true. Also quite naive and trusting, but in a very different way. The story of how finds work and makes friends is light relief from everything else that goes on. I also found the ending a little abrupt and full of too much coincidence, but I guess that's the nature of tying up lose ends.

What I did love about this book was the beautiful, and loving, descriptions of the Florida wilderness. I've never been anywhere like it, but I could picture it from what was written, very evocative.

On the whole, whilst I found some of it hard going, I'm glad I read this, but I'm also glad we didn't choose it as a book group read as I would have felt guilty if folk hadn't enjoyed it. ( )
1 vote Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
This fantastical story is unbelievably charming. A fairy tale in which bad things, adult things happen. A kind of old-school grimm-like drama. Russell creates an over-the-top, sensationalized world, but still draws us in with real, heartfelt sympathy. This is not a trivial work- astounding when considering that the protagonist is an alligator wrestling 13 year old girl whose mission is to rescue her love-sick sister from an underworld shotgun wedding. This book gives you back a bit of your childhood- the sense of adventure, insecurity, bravado, and misguided trust. Thank you, Ms. Russell, for the wonderful nostalgia. ( )
  Alidawn | Jan 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 165 (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 (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Russell, Karenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gall, JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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
For my family
First words
Our mother performed in starlight.
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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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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