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Swamplandia!

by Karen Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,3242253,249 (3.34)1 / 442
Twelve year old Ava must travel into the Underworld part of the smamp in order to save her family's dynasty of Bigtree alligator wresting. 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)
  1. 50
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (BeckyJG)
  2. 20
    Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (andomck)
    andomck: Swamps are crazy, man
  3. 20
    Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Replete with eccentric families and mythic overtones, these larger-than-life novels are exuberantly offbeat. Big Fish depicts a son's quest to know his dying (and lying!) father better, while Swamplandia! relates the struggle of two pre-teens to protect their family's alligator-wrestling theme park.… (more)
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    One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (BeckyJG)
  5. 00
    Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (booklove2)
  6. 00
    Dogland by Will Shetterly (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Coming-of-age growing up in a weird little Florida theme park. Except it's dogs rather than alligators, and the fantastic elements are actually present rather than hinted at and then snatched away.
  7. 22
    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (andomck)
    andomck: Both books have characters going from a somewhat dismal reality and escaping into an adventurous fantasy world.
  8. 00
    Run by Ann Patchett (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These character-driven novels share a theme of unconventional families coping with mothers taken by cancer. Russell's setting gives a strong sense of place in Florida, Patchett's an atmospheric Boston. Honest, thoughtful, thorough portrayals of complicated characters and relationships distinguish both.… (more)
  9. 00
    Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (booklove2)
  10. 01
    Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (andomck)
  11. 01
    Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman (andomck)
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» See also 442 mentions

English (224)  French (1)  All languages (225)
Showing 1-5 of 224 (next | show all)
Fun to read; I actually cared about the characters to the extent that I briefly put the book down because I was convinced that they were all going to die. Fortunately for all of us, I am not so good at guessing plots. ( )
  leahsusan | Mar 26, 2022 |
This novel is about a family of alligator wrestlers living in the Florida swampland, but I feel like neither that nor anything else I could possibly think to say about it adequately describes it. It's absurd, touching, sometimes dreamlike, very disturbing in places, and deeply weird. I can say that I'm rather impressed with Russell's writing. She has a way of coming up with metaphors and descriptions that are sometimes bizarre and off-kilter but somehow work for this particular story and other times are just incredibly apt and beautiful.

Ultimately, it's as hard to know quite what to make of Swamplandia! as it is to describe it, but I can definitely say this much about it: at a time when I find myself increasingly distracted and often unable to settle into a book for as long as I'd like, this one grabbed me by the brain and left me wanting to do nothing else but read. And, boy, was it good to sink into that experience again.

Rating: 4.5/5. I could argue with myself about whether it deserves the extra half-star, and maybe if I'd read it at a different time I'd be less generous, but I think that last point pretty well clinches it for me right now. ( )
  bragan | Mar 25, 2022 |
Check out my review...http://shannonsbookbag.blogspot.com/2011/09/swamplandia-russell.html ( )
  ShanLand | Feb 28, 2022 |
The title refers to the island park in Florida's Everglades, where the Bigtree family makes a living wrestling alligators. But the untimely death of the park's star, Hilola Bigtree, wife to the Chief, mother to 13-year old Ava and her two older siblings, sends the family into a tailspin. The tourists stop coming, the Chief withdraws, leaving Ava, her sister Ossie, and their brother Kiwi to fend for themselves. But Kiwi heads to the mainland to work for their competitor, the Chief heads out on a business trip, and Ossie is dating a supposed ghost, leaving Ava to try to save Swamplandia! and her family.

The book skirts the surreal and after what seemed to me to be a slow start, it became a compelling read about grief, loss of innocence, endings, and beginnings. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I don't think I'll ever forget Ava and her family.

That said, this is also a flawed book. I'm a forgiving reader, so once I really got into it, halfway through, I stopped noticing the small bits that seemed off, the sorts of things that bother some readers and not others. It's an odd book in many ways, one I ultimately liked but also one that could have been much better. ( )
  ShellyS | Jan 14, 2022 |
I liked the idea of the book and the characters, but it gets too long winded once the journey through the swamp starts. The descriptions of the landscape were beautiful, but slowed the story down. I do not have a problem with the ending. I think it is realistic. I take the story as a slice of life. ( )
  Marietje.Halbertsma | Jan 9, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 224 (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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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)

Twelve year old Ava must travel into the Underworld part of the smamp in order to save her family's dynasty of Bigtree alligator wresting. 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.

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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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