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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell


by Karen Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,8031963,136 (3.34)1 / 419
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English (195)  French (1)  All languages (196)
Showing 1-5 of 195 (next | show all)
I wanted to read this book ever since I first heard about it. I love stories set in the swamps, and a family that runs an alligator wrestling theme park. That alone is fascinating to me. I would have liked to see more of the day to day operations of the park. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and the future of the park is in trouble. As the characters begin to leave the park, the narrative becomes fragmented.

The three children, Kiwi, Osceola and Ava, all come across as extremely naive. Almost painfully so. Kiwi tries to "man up" and gets a job on the mainland at a rival theme park. Osceola and Ava then make extremely bad decisions which end in both of them heading into the swamp.

I felt like the book was the strongest when describing the two theme parks. The imagery of the swamp was beautiful. I just wish the girls hadn't made such stupid decisions. ( )
  readingover50 | Jun 11, 2019 |
This was one of those books that was on my "to read" list forever. Thrilled to pick it up at a library book sale.
So disappointed. I'm sure the characters are supposed to be endearingly quirky - I found that I didn't care about any of them.
I stopped reading around the time that the young girl, Ava, went off with a complete stranger (adult male) who told her he would help her find her missing sister. Um, no thanks. ( )
  joyceclark | Apr 4, 2019 |
Very good book. It starts off as a light-hearted tale about a dysfunctional family. Lots of good humor and Florida nonsense. In the middle of the book the narrative turns on a dime and becomes absolutely soul crushing. It's a little disconcerting, but the book is solid. ( )
  authenticjoy | Mar 29, 2019 |
In the quirky world of Swamplandia, a waterlogged island on Florida’s southwest coast, even the alligators are part of the act. Chief Bigtree is not actually a native, but he still thinks of his family as a tribe. And the family business is alligator wrestling. And everyone in the family is part of the business. But when the Chief’s wife, Hilola, succumbs to cancer, the real world starts seeping in. Soon the Chief’s father, “Sawtooth”, has to be put in a home for the elderly. And then a massive and nasty competitor, The World of Darkness, opens on the mainland. Which quickly puts an end to the tourists making their way across the water to Swamplandia. The Chief has a crazy plan to meet this new challenge, but his three children know it is doomed. When he leaves to “talk to investors” and fails to return, first his son, Kiwi, leaves to find actual employment at, surprise, The World of Darkness, and then his oldest, Osceola, follows her ghost boyfriend into the swamps, leaving young Ava to hold the fort. But eventually Ava is compelled to put forth in search of her sister, even if she has to journey to underworld to find her.

Of course what starts out quirky and fun often hides darker matters. Some of these come to the fore in Kiwi’s steep learning curve amongst his co-workers at The World of Darkness. But even more are visited upon Ava, some so shockingly as to be altogether out of keeping with the tone of the remainder of the novel. I suppose it is a risk whenever characters and events are unmoored or ungrounded. Anything can happen. And there are plenty of bad things that are just as likely to happen as good things.

There is much here in the writing that is admirable. And certainly the imaginative initial concept of the Swamplandia alligator theme park is beguiling. But just as Ava and her travelling companion risk getting lost in the channels of the swamp, so too does this story. So while there are moments and scenes that are delightful, the whole is less, perhaps, than the sum of (at least) some of its parts. However, Russell is clearly an author to keep an eye on, even if, for me, this novel didn’t entirely work. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Mar 17, 2019 |
Took me a while to get into it, but once the central mystery took hold it was hard to put down. It's one of those books that gets better the more I think about it. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 195 (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.
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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"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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