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Karen Russell (1) (1981–)

Author of Swamplandia!

For other authors named Karen Russell, see the disambiguation page.

20+ Works 7,460 Members 408 Reviews

About the Author

Karen Russell was born in Miami, Florida in 1981. Karen is the author of Swamplandia!, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize and was also included in the New York Times' "10 Best Books of 2011." She was named a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" young writer honoree and received the Bard show more Fiction Prize in 2011 for her first book of short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Russell received a B.A. from Northwestern University and MFA program from Columbia University. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Joanne Chan

Series

Works by Karen Russell

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories 2007 (2007) — Contributor — 825 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2008 (2008) — Contributor — 566 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2010 (2010) — Contributor — 410 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2014 (2014) — Contributor — 266 copies
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 (2015) — Contributor — 263 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2016 (2016) — Contributor — 258 copies
The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2007) — Contributor — 223 copies
The Changeling (1978) — Foreword, some editions — 210 copies
Granta 97: Best of Young American Novelists 2 (2007) — Contributor — 196 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2019 (2019) — Contributor — 175 copies
20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker (2010) — Contributor — 168 copies
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013 (2013) — Contributor — 152 copies
Granta 93: God's Own Countries (2006) — Contributor — 135 copies
Vampires: The Recent Undead (2011) — Contributor — 131 copies
The Decameron Project: 29 New Stories from the Pandemic (2020) — Contributor — 108 copies
The Best American Short Stories 2022 (2022) — Contributor — 87 copies
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2022 (2022) — Contributor — 72 copies
The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows (2015) — Contributor — 67 copies
The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story (2021) — Contributor — 50 copies
The Writer's Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House (2012) — Contributor — 38 copies
The Best American Magazine Writing 2012 (2012) — Contributor — 34 copies
Conjunctions: 52, Betwixt the Between (2009) — Contributor — 19 copies
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 15 (2005) — Contributor — 6 copies

Tagged

2011 (37) 2012 (28) 2013 (37) 2014 (29) alligators (107) American (49) American literature (41) amusement parks (42) audiobook (29) collection (30) coming of age (72) contemporary fiction (40) death (26) ebook (73) Everglades (84) family (84) fantasy (138) fiction (840) Florida (224) ghosts (72) goodreads (28) horror (29) Kindle (54) library (28) literary fiction (44) literature (36) magical realism (174) novel (57) read (84) read in 2012 (28) science fiction (43) short fiction (31) short stories (489) short story (26) signed (41) swamp (60) theme parks (25) to-read (902) unread (41) USA (31)

Common Knowledge

Birthdate
1981-07-10
Gender
female
Nationality
USA
Country (for map)
USA
Birthplace
Miami, Florida

Members

Discussions

General Discussion Thread *Group Read* of SWAMPLANDIA in 2013 Category Challenge (February 2013)

Reviews

This is an odd book. It has an air of unreality, yet I can't call it magical realism, and in the end it collapses into prosaic convention. It is humorous, yet harshly treats two-thirds of its main characters, and can you call a book that includes the rape of a child humorous? I think not. Then there's the setting in the swamps of Florida, inherently an odd and unusual place.

The story is about the Bigtree family of tourist attraction Swamplandia! fame, where they run an alligator-wrestling themed park on their own little island in the swamp. The adults are quickly removed from the scene: the mother dies shortly before the novel opens, and the father soon moves to the mainland to "raise money".

The book is then split in half. One half follows older brother Kiwi, 16, who moves to the mainland and takes a low paying grunt job with competing theme park World of Darkness. Kiwi is treated much better than any other character. He is endearingly painted as a type of sheltered, naive home-schooled kid too smart for his own good. Picked on and called gay by a bully, he thinks to recite poetry to him on the idea that its inherent beauty will be recognized and appreciated. Ha ha. He says something is "ominous", but only having seen the word in books, pronounces it like "dominoes".

Despite his serious lack of preparedness for dealing with mainland life and other people, he finds friends who look out for him, a beautiful girl to relieve him of his virginity, and the great luck to be recruited as a trainee pilot for the park, a skill he seems to learn with ease. Kiwi's chapters are generally funny, and he does well.

His younger sisters are a completely different story. Left behind on the island by Kiwi and their father, Osceola (14 or 15) is either dangerously mentally ill or a spirit medium capable of interacting with ghosts, whom she "dates". She runs off on an abandoned dredge barge to marry one of these ghosts, an adventure which will not end well.

That leaves Ava, 12 or 13, who takes over the other half of the narrative. At the same time her sister leaves her all by herself on the island, a strange older man appears. He convinces Ava that her sister likely is indeed in communication with the dead and on the way to the Underworld, and only he can help guide Ava to the Underworld in pursuit of her sister to rescue her. Ava, smart but all too credulous, goes off through the swamps with this man, and the outcome is that of a dark after-school special. Or it would be if there were any exploration of the aftermath, which there is not - Ava escapes, is eventually rescued and reunited with her family, and there it ends. This pisses off a lot of readers, apparently, which I can understand.

So Karen Russell puts these two girls through hell, not literally as it turns out but certainly figuratively. We have the alternating chapters of their brother as the amusing counterweight, I suppose, yet their suffering cannot be said to be redeemed in any way.

I'm not sure therefore that I would recommend this book to many people, though I did enjoy the reading experience it gave me and was always interested to pick it up again and resume reading. Russell's writing style is accurately described somewhere I saw as "thick"; it is very descriptive. I had to make note of this once sentence: rather than say something as mundane as "she saw him walking towards her", she writes, "Across the room, the Bird Man's antique boots were coming toward me, the toes addressing the air like sniffing noses, and slowly I gathered up the long length of him: trousered legs, brace of feathers, face, hat."
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lelandleslie | 234 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |
Karen Russell is, I think, a bit too strange for me. She writes really well, but I don't quite know what to think when I read her. I gave up on Swamplandia for that reason. But I picked up this book of short stories, because I loved the title, and I ended up liking most of the stories, though they were sad, all about children who were failed by the adults in their lives. The last story was the titular one, and maybe because I had just been reading about Native American history, and the history of boarding schools, it really touched my heart and raised this book to 4 stars.

Maybe I will try Swamplandia again.
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banjo123 | 65 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |
I found this book to be an unsatisfying slog and I think I only just now figured out why. Swamplandia has everything I like in it; it’s a pure Southern Gothic with grotesque characters and a bizarre location, a fantasy that becomes real through the perspective of a child protagonist, a grim look at a dysfunctional family. Superficially I should adore this book. But I feel like all of these elements are just sort of thrown in together without becoming any kind of cohesive whole. I’ll give an example: the setting is a weird amusement park buried deep in the Florida Swamp. So there is this element of children growing up in a crazy, borderline dysfunctional but totally fun environment. Check. But the mother died! It’s as though the soul of the place were gone. The father is in a deep depression and nobody is coming to see the show anymore. The once fun setting has died and only its corpse remains; a zombie place that sucks the vitality out of the father and threatens to consume the kids as well. Check. Karen Russell combined the running-away-to-the-circus narrative with the grim-castle-on-the-moors narrative. This should be Wuthering Heights meets World of Wonders. But it doesn’t work. Why?

I think it’s because it’s just too much at once. We don’t get a taste of what the circus was like when it was full of vitality we just see its lifeless remains afterward. So we’re stuck with processing both tropes at once without any time to digest. This whole book felt like that, all these positive elements unevenly blended together. It’s like a fantasy book with both vampires and steampunk. Stick to one! Or start with one and slowly work your way to the other. Just don’t get greedy.
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ethorwitz | 234 other reviews | Jan 3, 2024 |
Eh,

I really wanted to like this, but I found it to be annoying quirky, moreso than even Miranda July.
 
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kimlovesstuff | 234 other reviews | Dec 31, 2023 |

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Works
20
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27
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Popularity
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Rating
½ 3.6
Reviews
408
ISBNs
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