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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! (edition 2012)

by Karen Russell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,3881692,615 (3.34)1 / 402
Authors:Karen Russell
Info:Vintage (2012), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library

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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
I am easily seduced by the promise of imaginative characters, and Swamplandia! promised a family of alligator wrestlers living on an island amusements park (one member of which serial dates the dead). I loved the premise, and parts of the book (particularly the beginning) I thoroughly enjoyed.

Then things sort of started to fall apart for me.

Narratively, the first part of the book is told exclusively in first person, through Ava Bigtree's eyes, but at some point the book shifts and every other chapter is told in third person, following her brother Kiwi. I understand *why* we would need to follow Kiwi to have his story told, but the sudden shift seemed jarring. And then there was the very long, rambling "Dredgeman's Revelation" - which seemed odd and out of place and unendingly long.

As other reviewers have mentioned, there is a very horrible (although not entirely unexpected) thing that happens toward the end of the book, and this is not handled in a very satisfying way.

All that aside, I loved the world that was spun in this book - Swamplandia!, the World of Darkness, the swamps. It sucked me right in. ( )
  kathleenbarber | Aug 8, 2016 |
Well-written and original, but you have to be in the mood for gators. Not sure if I want to finish it. ( )
  AnnAnderson | Jun 25, 2016 |
It just didn't come together for me. It was unrelentingly depressing with haphazard insights. It ends without much being resolved or changed. I wanted to like it but it was a slog. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
I see that some folks I trust loved this, and that's why it was on my list. I believe them when they claim it worthy of their admiration & enchantment. There's some beautiful writing here; it's not only allegorical and elegiac and metaphorical and metaphysical, but it's simultaneously pretty like Hilola and ugly like decades old lemon drops. Even the Seths (all the captive alligators are named Seth) themselves are simultaneously beautiful and ugly. Even their jaws are.

But I land with the majority of GR and LM folks reading this - just can't make myself enjoy it, or even appreciate it enough to push through to the end. I got 1/3 through is all.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (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)
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)

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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
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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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