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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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Swamplandia! (edition 2011)

by Karen Russell (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,4581752,502 (3.34)1 / 406
Member:katiekrug
Title:Swamplandia!
Authors:Karen Russell (Author)
Info:Knopf (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Fiction, contemporary American

Work details

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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Showing 1-5 of 175 (next | show all)
I really did not like this book. I had to push myself to get to the end. (fyi - #4 is a bit of a spoiler.)

The good. The writer has a gift for lyricism.

The bad.

1. A lot of tired tropes. Magic realism (I think). Suburbia is bad. Late capitalism is bad. The average joe is an idiot. Quirky settings for the sake of quirky settings. Stories within stories.

2. Thin plotting coupled with outlandish plotting.

3. But even worse than that is the bad story telling. The author would describe the action and then not know what to do next so she would insert some lyrical passage. A lot of this was annoying, over-the-top description, but there were big chunks of stuff that had nothing to do with anything. We have a little excitement going when Ava tries to escape and then we get this story about Mama Weeds. WTF.

4. The weird business with the birdman. The figure is romanticized, mythologized and then turned into very realistic abuser. It's almost like the birdman gets a pass because he's not real half the time and its not clear what happens to him in the end - if anything. And what is up with Walt? Is he complicit in the business? There was nothing good about this part of the storyline. The whole business was creepy in a bad way.

5. The New York Times listed this as one of the top 5 fiction books of 2011. Inexplicable. ( )
  nngrey | Jan 13, 2017 |
Fun story in places, but I ended up disliking this book for a number of reasons, including the strange shifts in narrative perspective, the unsatisfying conclusion, and the general ickiness of Ava's story. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Swamplandia! was a well received 2011 novel whose author was hailed by the New Yorker and the NYT. Swamplandia!, with the exclamation mark, is the name given to the Everglades amusement park where the Bigtree family specializes in alligator wrestling. The star of the show, Hilola, the statuesque mother of our three main characters, dies of cancer early in the novel; with her loss, the park no longer attracts the crowd that used to barely sustain this dysfunctional family. Ava, the 13 year old narrator notes,
"I started to miss the same tourists I’d always claimed to despise: the translucent seniors from Michigan. The ice-blond foreign couples yoked into thick black camera straps like teams of oxen. The fathers, sweating everywhere, with their trembling dew mustaches. The young mothers humping up and down the elevated walkway to the Swamp Café, holding their babies aloft like blaring radios."
When their father goes off to the mainland to try and drum up business, and Kiwi, the 16 year old also leaves to work in a competing amusement park, Ava and her older, seance-loving sister, Osceola, are left to take care of themselves. Not long after, Ava finds herself having to go out searching for her delusional sister who has run off to marry a spirit named Louis Thanksgiving. Her poor choice of a guide, a unscrupulous character called Birdman, provides all the portent needed for a journey to the underworld.
I enjoyed the quirkiness of the characters and the wonderful description of this most unusual setting. It's impressive how this novel evolved from a short story written when the author was only 24 years old. I'm sure that Ms. Russell will continue make her mark.
Some writing samples:
As a kid I heard the word malignancy as “Malig-Nancy,” like an evil woman’s name, no matter how many times Kiwi and the Chief and Dr. Gautman himself corrected me. Our mother had mistaken her first symptoms for a pregnancy, and so I still pictured the Malig-Nancy as a baby, a tiny, eyeless fist of a sister, killing her.

"In the old days, good smells filled the kitchen (misleading smells, since our mom’s cooking strategy was to throw a couple of raw things into a greased pan and wait to see what happened, like watching strangers on a date)." ( )
  novelcommentary | Dec 22, 2016 |
Once again I must walk to the beat of a different drummer. This book has been praised by reviewers of many different publications and websites and I just don't understand why. I was looking forward to reading this book with it's kooky characters and quirky premise. To me it was a struggle to get through and if I hadn't been confined to an airplane with no other reading material, I would have abandoned it early on. ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
A heroine as poignant and lovable as Scout Finch, and an evocative setting indeed. I have a strange fascination for Florida and its geography and history, though I'd just hate hate hate to live there. But I hope dearly there's a red Seth paddling around amongst the mangroves somewhere. ( )
  jjaylynny | Nov 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 175 (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.
 
So Ms. Russell has quite a way with words. She begins with the alligators’ “icicle overbites,” the visiting tourists who “moved sproingingly from buttock to buttock in the stands,” the wild climate (“Our swamp got blown to green bits and reassembled, daily, hourly”), and the Bigtrees’ various thoughts about the theme park’s gators, or Seths. Leaving the origin of that nickname as one of this novel’s endless lovely surprises, let’s just say that Chief Bigtree holds the reptiles in low regard. “That creature is pure appetite in a leather case,” he warns Ava. But when Ava tenderly adopts a newborn bright-red creature as her secret pet, she says, “the rise and fall of the Seth’s belly scales could hypnotize me for an hour at a stretch.”
added by smasler | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Feb 16, 2011)
 
A debut novel from Russell (stories: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, 2006) about female alligator wrestlers, ghost boyfriends and a theme park called World of Darkness.
added by smasler | editKirkus Reivews (Oct 13, 2010)
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Russell, Karenprimary 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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Wikipedia in English (2)

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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