Read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell David Ackroyd Arielle Sitrick Online


From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s . . . Run for your life. This girl is on fire”—Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to theFrom the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s . . . Run for your life. This girl is on fire”—Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back 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 #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 and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.From the Hardcover edition....

Title : Swamplandia!
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780307748881
Format Type : Audiobook
Number of Pages : 13 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Swamplandia! Reviews

  • Oriana
    2019-02-27 13:01

    Hey, it's my latest (and meanest) review for CCLaP! I also put this on my CCLaP best-of-2011 list—for best total disappointment.Perhaps Swamplandia! is a case of being careful what you wish for. Perhaps it was a back-handed slap against wish-fulfillment. Perhaps it should force me to reexamine deeply held prejudices, or at least preferences, which would make me grow as a reader and a person, ultimately making me more open-minded, forgiving, and calm.Or maybe it’s just a bad book.Let’s start with this: I hate short stories. They’re such a letdown! Why go to the trouble of setting a scene, peopling it with interesting characters, working up momentum, and then… ending it? Just when things were starting to get good? Come on, lazy author, why'd you stop?! This drives me totally crazy. And Karen Russell’s debut collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, was a perfect example. The stories were so great! Her spooky ambiance, her weird haunting language, her creepy ideas and wonderful stories… I was so disappointed that they were over so quickly, just when I was getting enmeshed in her strange worlds. So I hope you see why I was super excited for Swamplandia!. Here was, finally, what I’d always been so sure I wanted: a writer whose stories I’d loved, not only writing a novel, but taking as its kernel one of the very stories I’d wanted expanded! But it turns out that I was totally wrong. Be careful what you wish for; you could wind up with a big sprawling messy novel, filled with inconsistent characters, a terribly paced plot arc, a horribly disappointing ending, and very little reward for the long slog. Even the atmospherics, which had been so taut and engrossing in her short stories, grew so diffuse and lackluster over a few hundred pages that they lost all their power.Look, the plot? Pretty original. A family who lives in an amusement park in a swamp, wrestling alligators and entertaining fat tourists—that’s fun. Mom, the star of the show, recently passed away. Ossie, the waifish older sister, is having an affair with a ghost. Dad is pretty delusional about the family’s prospects. Which leaves twelve-year-old Ava and sixteen-year-old Kiwi to try to salvage the bankrupt wreck the family park has become. The plot splits when Kiwi runs away from home, following he and Ava on their own adventures, Kiwi into the “real” world on the mainland, and Ava deep into the swamp in search of her runaway sister, with a Birdman as her guide. That wasn’t too spoilery, I promise; you’d get most of it on the book’s back cover. So the plot’s not the problem, at least not completely. It did feel unwieldy, and overly meandering. It could have used a lot of tightening. And the language, which in St. Lucy’s Home was so consistently stunning, is here only lovely, and only rarely, and the few times when she nails it only serves to highlight how flat and lifeless everything else is. But generally the big picture wasn’t the issue. It was the myriad little things that got me more. Like Ava and Ossie sitting in the kitchen with bare cupboards, complaining about how hungry they are, and then a few pages later they pack for a trip, stuffing backpacks full of the suddenly plentiful food in the house. Lazy. Or like an emphatically described cloudless sky, which two paragraphs later begins to rain. Lazy. Or conversations that have huge gaps, or other ones where a character thinks something but then the other character responds as if the thought had been spoken. Lazy. Important or even trivial plot points revealed in the wrong order, or tossed haphazardly in the middle of the next scene. Lazy. Bizarre and poorly done accents and patois and (shudder) street slang. Lazy. Banging us over the head with overly obvious truths, rather than letting us infer them. Lazy. Terrible character inconsistencies. Lazy.Lazy, lazy, lazy. I know that as a copyeditor I’ve become a much closer reader than I used to be, and probably most people wouldn’t notice all these piddling little things, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse. And maybe I’m being petty, but so what? Sure I’m a reviewer, but more importantly I’m a reader, and if a book has so many tiny problems that I am constantly taken out of the reading experience to roll my eyes at them, then that’s a poorly done book. I don’t even blame Karen completely for all of this; there’s a huge team of publishing people who could have caught these things. And this book wasn’t put out by some shoestring indie press that’s stretched too thin to afford a second proofreader; this is Knopf! Arguably the most revered literary press in the world! How could they have failed to rein in this mess? In fact, how could they have failed to notice that this book is simply not up to par with the high level of literary prowess that they represent?And I haven’t even gotten to the worst part. In fact I kind of can’t, because it’s a big reveal and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience. But I can’t write this review without commenting on it, so apologies if this is cryptic or weird. Suffice it to say that something very awful and very unexpected happens about 260 pages into a 300-page book. Now first of all, that is way too late, especially in such a slow-moving and long book, to deliver that kind of authorial kick in the nuts. Secondly, it is a pretty horrifying thing, which is dealt with barely at all, and mostly in even more horrifying thoughts and ways. It also signals the beginning of the end of the book, where Karen tries frantically to pull everything together, resulting in lots of dropped threads and unanswered questions, and an overly maudlin and utterly unfulfilling closing scene. It’s just all so fucking lazy.So what’s the lesson I’ve learned from this? I guess sometimes a short story is its own kind of great. There is an art to the short story, and it’s selfish and short-sighted of me to assume that short stories are short because the author is lazy. Sometimes it’s lazier to write a novel.

  • Olivia
    2019-03-19 15:12

    Geez, Karen Russell. WTF?I loved the idea of 'Swamplandia!' so much. The story is strange, the title is awesome, and the setting and characters are completely foreign to me ... alligators! swamps! ghosts! a bird man! Florida! lots of exclamation points used with wild abandon! ... Swamplandia! woo hoo, right?Unfortunately, no. There is no "woo hoo" in this book at all. Russell is clearly a talented writer with a cutting sense of humor (of which she shows a few hints in the beginning), but this story is one that I'd pay good money to have permanently erased from my memory. I incorrectly interpreted the strangeness of this book to be something mystical and otherworldly, like a Floridian Alice in Wonderland. At first, like our heroine Ava, I was inspired to believe that interesting things -things that defy the laws of the universe- were afoot. But then, also like Ava and the rest of her family, I was cruelly bitch slapped by the real world. For poor Ava, "bitch slap" doesn't even begin to cover it. By the end, Russell makes it clear that there is no magic or wonder to be found here, only horribleness, deceit, and plain evil. This is not a swampier Alice in Wonderland ... more like a swampier version of a Stephen King novel crossed with a police blotter. Everything in this book is dark and ugly. At first this seems interesting and edgy, but there's no payoff. What's the point? This book has enough symbols, allegories, and metaphors to fill hundreds of high school AP English papers, but I still don't think it accomplishes anything other than making sure the reader is more despondent about the world by the final page than they were at the outset. That, and perhaps convincing many to never visit Florida.

  • Jenna
    2019-03-17 15:14

    I really wanted to like this book. It came with high praises and witty blurbs. It came with a cool cover. It started out fun and quirky: a family of alligator wrestlers living on a Florida island, running their own crazed theme park. But halfway into the story, I am stranded in the swampland. Stranded not by fierce monster gators, but by beautiful pointless writing with no movement toward either crisis or resolution. It's a mystery to me why this doesn't work, but it just doesn't. Beautifully written nothing.

  • Jill
    2019-03-19 18:20

    Swamplandia! is its very own Rorschach test. A reader can see in it most anything he or she wants. Is it a terrifying supernatural thriller? A fast-paced adventure story? An elegiac narrative about a dysfunctional family slowly spinning out of control? A cautionary tale about the perils of being an outsider? Or a quirky and dream-like parable using the swamp as a mythic archetype?In fact, it’s all these things. Yet above all else, Swamplandia! is a lavishly imagined and highly original coming-of-age story. Swamplandia! is the name of a faded, nearly bankrupt Everglades tourist attraction, owned by the Bigtree clan of alligator wrestlers. Early on in the book, Hilola – the mother and star performer – dies shockingly young, of ovarian cancer, leaving the family unmoored. Their flamboyant father, Chief Bigtree, heads away to take care of “business” on the mainland, leaving the children undefended.Left to their own devices, the three Bigtree teens react in different and dysfunctional ways. Nerdy older brother Kiwi, just 17, sneaks away in the dead of night to join the heavily-advertised competition, a themed amusement park called World of Darkness, where guests (known as “Lost Souls”) partake in the various “rings of hell.” His plan is to make money to save Swamplandia! from extinction, despite his meager wages and the jeering of other employees.Osceloa, the middle girl, named for a Seminole Indian, falls under the spell of spiritualism, becoming more and more entranced with a young man Louis Thanksgiving…a ghost-figure who died during the Dredge and Fill Campaign of the 1930s. She mysteriously vanishes after leaving a note that she is running off to elope with him.And that leaves 13-year-old Ava, the first-person narrator of the story. There is a poignancy about Ava, who sorely misses her mother, worries about Kiwi and Ossie, and dreams of taking her mother’s place as a top performer and saving the day. It is up to Ava to take care of the alligators (redubbed “Seths” by the Bigtrees); when a rare red Seth is born, he becomes her talisman and in ways, her alter ego. She will ultimately take her own harrowing journey with a guide known as the Bird Man, who takes her on both a physical and emotional odyssey right to the very gates of hell.Karen Russell offers a profound knowledge of the world she creates – the hatching and care of the alligators, the imperiled swamp, the back-history (including the massacred Seminoles), the isolation and innate wisdom of those who live off the mainland. The swamp – the quagmire – that threatens to engulf the three siblings must be navigated for them to emerge whole and move on.The writing style calls forth an early John Irving, Katherine Dunne, or John Kennedy Toole. The yearning for a reconnection with her mother – the haunting quality of the outsider – the beauty of some of the descriptions elevates Swamplandia! over many debut novels and makes Karen Russell a writer to watch.

  • Krok Zero
    2019-03-26 19:09

    So where did Swamplandia! go wrong? Was it the point at which the narrative branches off into two tracks, following the separate adventures of the protagonist's wayward brother? Was it the inclusion of a play-within-the-play, suddenly covering the life story of a new character? Was it the general shift in tone from quirkily heartfelt family novel to weak magical-realism about ghosts? Or did the real trouble begin at conception, when promising young fictionist Karen Russell had the idea to expand one of her rightly celebrated short stories into a novel?Sadly, I'm jumping on board the disappointed bandwagon of folks who found Russell's debut novel a non-starter. Or actually no, the start is pretty good, so let's say a non-middler and a non-finisher. Why so many kind notices in the literary world? Because everyone likes Karen Russell and wants to give her a hand, even though she wrote a book that's not actually very good? I can tell that Karen Russell is a sweetheart. She'd make a great girlfriend, I bet. I wouldn't mind passing an evening or two in her company, cuddling on a couch, going over her ideas for new stories. But my critiques would be merciless in those cuddle-workshop sessions, because sweet young Karen just isn't there yet. There was certainly potential to this saga of an alligator-wrestling family's downfall, but after nicely establishing the characters and their situation, Russell doesn't seem to know where to go. Neither of the forked narrative's tines are of much interest, and the prose, though marked with the occasional neat simile or clever construction, never hooks onto a clear voice. The resolution is hurried; the preceding events turn out to not really have mattered; it's as if Russell knew she was in a tailspin and decided to just cut her losses, get out, and try again another day. I will give her another shot on that day. And if you're reading this, KR, I am totally serious about those cuddle sessions.

  • Pattie
    2019-03-18 15:14

    Whenever I read a review on good reads that starts: "This was too dark" I just roll my eyes. Bring on the complexity, bring on the darkness. But this may have been too dark and sad even for me, not saved by an end that felt tacked-on. Darkness and sadness this deep needs some hint of humor to make it bearable, and this story is almost completely unrelievedly, unremittingly dark. (Well, okay, the World of Darkness was pretty funny). I loved "St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" and really, really wanted to love this book. But I got so frustrated by last half (which I won't give away). Too much mess - too many unanswered questions and story threads left hanging. One major character (Ossie) is a total cipher, and at the end of the book, I had no idea what happened, either with her character or with her plotline. But I'll give it four stars for originally imagined characters and settings described with the kind of details that make you live there for a few days. I feel as if I could walk through the Swamplandia! gift shop, and through the Bigtree Museum, and felt like I was kayaking behind Ava and the Birdman through the swamps. So proceed at your own risk.

  • Kerri
    2019-03-23 11:23

    This was 4-5 star territory, until 7/8 through the book, you know: THAT part. I feel like I was sold a bill of goods. I liked what I was sold — a book with some seriously beautifully depicted magical realism, a hero with a call, and an unlikely helper, almost a spirit guide. I mean, I was quite aware of where that "relationship" could have headed, and I kept consciously thinking, I'm glad that I really believe that the author is going to take it on a more original path than that. But nope; even seeing all the warning signs, it just didn't work. Here's what my experience with this book felt like: A good friend takes your hand and says, "Come with me, I'm going to take you on an eight mile hike to show you a real life unicorn!" Then, when you get to mile seven, she lets go of your hand, punches you in the face, and runs away, not even giving you enough time to ask, "WHY?".I'm certainly not against when bad things happen to good characters (too many examples to name of when this has just KILLED me, but in a good way), or when there are extremely jarring plot twists (Gone Girl was a perfect example of a well executed and well timed plot twist), but this was done in a way that just threw me completely outside of the world I was in, and then made no effort to put the pieces back together, or even deal with the pieces.This may just be a personal preference, but I also would have preferred to not jump back and forth from Swamplandia to the World of Darkness. I understand the need for that plotline, but I wish it were handled in a different way. In addition, considering all of the unresolved, un-dealt-with issues that were still hanging on all of the siblings, what was with the feel-good ending? Did she just give up?

  • Karen!
    2019-02-28 12:06

    I had completely forgotten that I had read this book. And then Goodreads recommended that I read it. Fail, Goodreads, Fail. Reviewing this book has prompted me to add a brand new bookshelf: "What is wrong with the world?!?!?!?!" Although, I think that the "?!?!?!" didn't make it. They are understood, I hope.This is one of those books that you start out kind of liking: who doesn't want to read about an alligator park in Florida where the mother of 3 children is a phenomenal alligator wrestler. And then she dies. Of Cancer. So the family tries to go about their lives, bringing people into their family run park, learning off of the library boat, you know, standard childhood. But the eldest, a boy, decides to run away to make money for the family at ::gasp:: the rival big money amusement park. The middle child, a girl, falls in love with a ghost? That she met with the use of a Ouija board? And then she runs away with him? In the swamp? How does one run in a swamp...? So, the youngest, Ava, goes off to find her with the randomly appearing birdman, because their father has essentially deserted them, looking for "investors". But, no worries, Ava can take care of herself, she has been groomed to be the family's next alligator wrestler.And then, out of nowhere I vomited, because a 13 year-old had graphic sex with a middle aged man described as the birdman, making me 112% certain that he smells bad.I am ashamed to share my name with this author. Appalled. Repulsed. Did not finish. Screamed out loud in disgust. Currently squirming just thinking about it.

  • Saleh MoonWalker
    2019-03-18 16:05

    Onvan : Swamplandia! - Nevisande : Karen Russell - ISBN : 307263991 - ISBN13 : 9780307263995 - Dar 323 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2011

  • Sarah Ryburn
    2019-03-06 19:23

    **** 3/4Getting into this story was a bit of a task. Somewhere around page 89, however, I realized that I didn't want to put it down. Russell is an excellent writer, despite the occasional split infinitive (personal pet peeve), and her story sparked some truly rich and engaging discussion one particularly fine April evening. This is a novel that lends itself to discussion and not of the "I liked it when..." variety. Russell's approach is subtle; she is a master of "showing rather than telling," pairing terse, sometimes shockingly direct, dialogue (i.e. Ava telling the Birdman she loves him) with imaginative, meandering characterization. In the world of Swamplandia!, plot always serves characterization so much so that I read with the persistent sensation of moving deeper into this island world, its strange mythology, and the collective psyche of its inhabitants in the turning of each page. The swamp came to life for me, springing out of the page; it's the dwelling place of monsters, "the Seths," and of demigods, the bigtree clan who live among and subdue them (Chief Bigtree actually refers to the Seths as "prehistoric monsters"). There is such complexity here––enough, surely, to fuel many more hours of discussion and countless paragraphs for this review. All the time that Rrssell weaves her mythology, she plants quiet but insistent markers of the "human" realm-–Chief Bigtree's warning that alligators in the wild are not like the Seths, a radio playing golden oldies deep within the boudaries of "the underworld," subtle markers rather than foreshadowing of the reckoning Ava faces once it is no longer possible to "go on pretending" as the Birdman suggests. This simultaneous tending to both her mythological world and the crushing realism that undermines and destroys it shows the hand of a masterful storyteller. I was completely drawn in and found myself as bewildered and confused as Russell's characters to find that, in the end, the piper must be paid. I will call the novel masterful; there is no doubt in my mind. Russell misses five stars in my assessment due to an abrupt and murky ending. There is a hint of all coming out too well for these characters in the end, but I don't really fault Russell for this. Narrative tension is a tricky thing, but Russell balances it smoothly throughout a long and complex story, if it does get away from her a bit just at the end. I think she couldn't write a good story and escape the damage they must suffer at the death of such naive illusions. At the same time, I don't think she could stay true to her characters and destroy them completely. Swamplandia! appears larger than life to the Bigtree children; life seems to require that their innocence be cut away, leaving them raw and bloodied with the wisdom of their experiences. There is strength in Ava and Ossie and Kiwi; Kiwi shows himself to be a survivor, to be capable of adaptation, and Ava becomes an alligator wrestler in truth. Ossie may seem frail and other-worldly, but Ava comments that she has always been full of surprises, unlooked-for talents and abilities. So I am glad that Russell did not surrender entirely to the altar of realism, and I agree that this family seems "somehow to be winning" in the midst of considerable losses. Still, I find the ending "abrupt and murky." There are questions I want answered, but I don't necessarily want to know what happens next. In a way, an ending to the narrative seems needful once the characters accept that Swamplandia! is lost, yet Ava's optimism seems remote and insubstantial. I wanted more assurance; I wanted some hint at how they really might win and not merely survive. I've written before and simply will repeat that endings, really good ones, seem more difficult than beginnings or all that comes in the middle. I often forgive an author truly horrifying slips in the middle if her beginning hooks me well or his ending really satisfies. Russell's beginning seems a bit sluggish, and her ending does not fully satisfy, but there is genuine craft in the 200+ pages that come between.

  • Stephanie
    2019-03-19 15:11

    I didn't like this book because it was boring, not interesting and annoying.Interested to know what happens, but don't want to waste more than a minute or two? Read my synopsis:(view spoiler)[A girl named Ava lives on an island in the swampy everglades with her dad, who calls himself the chief but isn't actually Native American at all, and her sister and brother. They own and live in a tourist trap called Swamplandia! which is basically an alligator wrestling show and a bunch of crap. The mom was the main attraction, because she was a top-notch wrestler, but then she died. Now the park has less visitors and isn't making enough money. There are three main stories:1. The brother, Kiwi, runs away from home, moves to the mainland, where he gets a job at the competition - a stupid theme water park with a Hell theme. I'm not kidding. While there he learns that living on an island with only your family makes you socially awkward. He hates it and can't save money because he makes minimum wage and has to spend money to live in the dorms underneath hell and such. He gets bumped up from janitor to lifeguard where he sort of saves a girl's life (he doesn't think she was really unconscious before he gave her mouth to mouth, but that's not really important at all). He gets labeled a hero and because of that is allowed to train for a job flying helicopters.2. The sister, Ossie, has a book about communicating with the dead. She dates dead boys and falls in love with a ghost guy who worked on a barge she and Ava found washed up somewhere on the shore of their island. Ava doesn't believe her until Ossie tells her this unbelievably boring and detailed story of this dude's ENTIRE LIFE. The dad leaves the girls on the island alone to go to the mainland to find investors or some shit (he apparently has done this from time to time for as long as they can remember). Once dad is gone, Ossie runs away to get married to her ghost boyfriend.3. Ava, reading the note that her sister has run away, goes to find Ossie. Instead she finds a "Bird Man," who comes back to Swamplandia! with her and she changes into a bathing suit and does her mom's alligator routine for him (did I mention she is a wrestler and wants to be as good as her mom some day?). If you think he rapes her, what with the being vulnerable and wet and nearly naked and alone, you are mistaken. Instead, he spends the night at the house and in the morning offers to help her navigate the waters to find this passage to the underworld. Ava, desperate to find her sister and also a little crazy, packs a bag and the two set out on an adventure! They travel for days and days and days of boring stuff where she comes to feel really close to the Bird Man. Finally they find the underworld! They cross the threshold and... it doesn't seem different from the regular world. There's even some people, but he assures her they are dead people. He gets pretty pissed when she yells out to them. But at this point she's feeling less confident that this coo-coo knows what the heck he's talking about. After days and days of traveling and getting crazy far from the world, he feels confident enough to get down to rape business. Ava runs, blah, blah, blah, what are the odds, runs into her sister who was "left at the alter" by her ghost fiance. What's that you hear? Is it a helicopter? Is it their brother who just happens to be flying a helicopter for the first time? OMG what a happy reunion.There's also a bunch of useless BS about their grandfather. And the dad's "business stuff on the mainland" is really that he works at a casino and the son found him out at some point in all of that.THE END (hide spoiler)]

  • meeners
    2019-02-24 19:19

    i confess: giving this book even two stars is a struggle. i was ready to like it, to praise its finely crafted prose - until maybe 50 pages in, when i started to feel some serious reading fatigue from all the Finely Crafted Prose (emphatic capitalization necessary). 100 pages in, and i was ready to throw my kindle against the wall in a fit of Finely Crafted Prose pique. i've got nothing against careful, ponderous writing, but writing that basically sits there preening at its reflection in the mirror, refusing to hold its own weight - that, i could do without. the moment i knew i was done with trying to like this book was when the POV switched from first-person ava to third-person kiwi. again, not something i really mind in principle. but you know something's wrong when, aside from a superficial switch from "i" to "he," the prose remains essentially the same. what is the POINT?????!! well - the kiwi sections do contain a greater amount of ironic quoting, ironic italization, ironic punctuation, and of course ironic capitalization; sometimes, as a special treat, we get all four in one sentence - all of it i suppose as a concession to the fact that we're dealing with a "real" Teenage Boy! except, of course, when the Teenage Boy! is being precociously introspective, and is allowed to get away with sentences like this one: Her face was an absolute blank but Kiwi returned the gaze of her enormous brown nipples, which seemed somehow sorrowful and frank, alert to a great sadness behind the pornographer's camera, while the boys smirked. i swear i am not making this sentence up. just...i don't even know. *throws up hands in defeat*edit: i see that the author is the product of an MFA program. AHA! i knew it! i kept thinking about salman rushdie's complaints about the MFA curse while reading this book.

  • Marco Kaye
    2019-02-28 16:09

    No one writes sentences quite like Karen Russell. They are charming, mysterious, and miles from normal. Here, she vividly describes a meal made by Chief Bigtree, the wayward father of the book: “Tiny broccoli florets floated in the gluey cheese like a forest consumed by lava." The sky, “yawned blue at us, then disappeared.” Another one of my favorite sky sentences, “A huge hole in the middle of the ceiling opened into the clear night sky: it looked as if some great predator had peeled the thatched roof back, sniffed once, and lost interest.”Swamplandia is funny too, especially in Kiwi's sections, the brother who shares the narration with his sister Ava. The friends that gather around him, Vijay in particular, provide lots of laughs. “It’s not even that hard supposedly,” Vijay says when Kiwi is offered a chance to learn to fly, “It’s like driving a bus of the sky.”It’s no wonder that HBO wants to make a series of Swamplandia! The characters are vividly drawn, and the setting is a character in and of itself. I just hope that the writers and producers retain Russell’s voice, and that Chief Bigtree is played by Bill Murray.

  • Melki
    2019-03-16 12:59

    When gator-wrester Hilola Bigtree, Swamplandia's star attraction, dies, her family is left grasping at straws. Her husband, Chief Bigtree, up and disappears, off to raise funds for his Carnival Darwinism expansion project. Oldest daughter, Osceola, not only sees dead people, she's beginning to date them. Son Kiwi runs off to work for the competition, a bizarre theme park called World of Darkness. And youngest daughter Ava schemes to save the park with her secret weapon...a beautiful red alligator. The book got off to a great start, but the more pages I turned, the more my attention drifted away, and it basically never came back again.I preferred Kiwi's reality-based story of teenage angst, lousy jobs and tiny paychecks much more than Ava's magical mystery trip into the swamp to keep her sister from marrying a ghost. There is one lovely book-related quote:Heaven, Kiwi thought, would be the reading room of a great library. But it would be private. Cozy. You wouldn't have to worry about some squeaky-shoed librarian turning the lights off on you or gauging your literacy by reading the names on your book spines, and there wouldn't be a single other patron. The whole place would hum with a library's peace, filtering softly over you like white bars of light.I'm tempted to tack on another star for originality AND because I always dreamed of living in a theme park, but mostly I'm just glad to be done reading this.

  • Debra
    2019-03-17 19:13

    Stephen King says: "Sisters Ava and Ossie Bigtree are left in charge of their family’s fading Everglades theme park, Swamplandia!, when a flashier attraction (World of Darkness — think hell with roller coasters) opens nearby. Russell is a tremendously gifted writer, and Swamplandia! goes rollicking right along...until you get to the bone-chilling second half, which is as terrifying as Deliverance. It’ll be published in early 2011. Don’t miss it."I thought this book was wonderful; the writing sublime, the characters well-developed and compelling. The inside flap does not hint at the sinister side of the story; I found it surprising they omitted this important component. There is a definite supernatural and haunting feel to a good part of this book. A great coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence tale. The descriptions of the swamp made me want to be there; even with all the mosquitoes! I'm surprised by how many less-than-enthusiastic reviews there are here. I thought it was unique and enthralling.

  • Jack
    2019-03-02 12:06

    “The best book I’ve read in ten years,” exclaimed my older brother, Phil. Given that he is a bit weird, as are his tastes, I took his words with a shaker of salt. Phil was one of the very first hippies in Kansas, back when they were ostracized as if they had some deadly communicable disease. He has always marched to his own drum beat, a bizarre cadence that I often don’t hear or fully understand. So I assumed that Karen Russell’s Swamplandia would be as unconventional as my brother. But I had read Russell’s delightful short story, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” in the Best American Short Stories of 2007 a few years back so I decided to give Swamplandia a try. Am I glad I did.The faux Native-American Bigtree Tribe (actually a family of whites transplanted from Ohio decades ago) own an Everglades island they call Swamplandia. They put on an alligator tourist extravaganza. Hilola Bigtree, mother of the clan and perhaps the greatest alligator wrestler alive, has just died of cancer. Her husband, the Chief, master of ceremonies, announcer and lighting grip now struggles to make ends meet as a new attraction has come to Loomis County – The World of Darkness, a cheesy swallowed-by-the-whale-all-of-the-way-to-hell fantasy tourist trap. Bigtree daughter Ava, at thirteen, has been training to take her mother’s alligator wrestling place, but isn’t quite ready yet. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Osceola, finds a book of the occult and now speaks to the dead (a phase?) and even has a boyfriend, a boy about her age who died mysteriously on a nearby abandoned dredge boat in the 1930s. Seventeen-year-old son Kiwi, who has read nearly every book on the old beached library ship, decides to run off to the mainland and get a job to help meet the mortgage payment.Russell uses young Ava as her naïve first person narrator. All of the Bigtree children have been home schooled on the island and their only connection with the outside world has been through brief daily encounters with Swamplandia tourists. Ava is bright but painfully unworldly. In some ways she harkens to Harper Lee’s young heroine, Scout. “Outside I saw clouds rising like bread; one of these turned out to be the moon.” She has a bright child’s view of people, “Dennis Pelkis was snapping blue gum like he was trying to generate electricity or something.” Her observations contain a pleasant vibrancy – “Out here the mosquitoes were after me for red gallons…a force that could drain you in sips without ever knowing what you had been, or seeing your face.The love for and loss of her mother permeates Ava’s thoughts and actions: “Our mom, as stern and all-seeing as she could often seem, would do us this great favor of pretending to be credulous when we faked sick. Mom cooed sincerely over our theatrical moanings and coughs. She would push our hair back from our cool liar’s scalps and bring us noodles and icy mainland colas as if happy for an excuse to love us like this.”When Kiwi runs away to the mainland to find work, he discovers his book-read education to be inadequate to deal with the culture of mainland life. He finds work at the Bigtree tribe’s competitor World of Darkness where he struggles to assimilate. As Ava is not there on the mainland with him to give her first person’s account, Russell switches to a third person point-of-view. “Every day, Kiwi’s colleagues [a group of emigrants and college kid neer-do-wells] taught him what you could and could not say to another person here on the mainland. This was a little like having snipers tutor you on the limits of the prison yard.” Kiwi becomes the “World” employee’s favorite target for teasing and practical jokes. He discovers how to cuss, and when cussing is required to establish status and maintain it with one’s peers, a key to Loomis County survival. Kiwi considers, “If you really were gay, how could you possibly live here in Loomis County? If you were a bookworm, a Mormon, an albino, a virgin…if you had any kind of unusual hairstyle, evangelical religion, a gene for altruism or obesity; if you wrestled monsters on an island, like Ava, or conjugated Latin, like he did, or dated the motherfucking dead, how could you survive to age eighteen?” And Kiwi learns about libido, and eventually sex, “sixteen-year-old Nina, who wore her jeans so tight around the plush heart of her ass that sometimes Kiwi had to walk behind the cardboard flames to compose himself.” But it is Ava who provides the book’s compass, who struggles to find Russell’s life lessons.When Ava’s sister, Osceola, runs away with what may be a real ghost in the wreck of an old dredge ship that has not been seaworthy for five decades, Ava sets off to rescue her. Russell shifts gears from an unusual study of a family in crisis to an even more unusual rescue thriller.There are some minor quibbles with pacing, characterization and the flip-flop between mainland Kiwi and Ava's search for Osceola, forgivable all. Russell’s crisp colorful writing makes her story more than just an improbable ghost story. It is a poignant chronicle of a family exposed to drastic changes, how they react, how they struggle to cope and to hold on to what makes them a family. My brother knew what he was talking about.

  • Kim G
    2019-02-27 13:16

    I should have loved this book, it's so awesome in theory. Karen Russell's talent for imagery is insane, I have a major obsession with circus/carnival fiction, this book even has a bear that's a member of the family named Judy Garland (criminally underused, by the way). I mean, c'mon, SOLD. But I didn't enjoy it. It probably deserves more like 2.5 stars, because it's got its strong points, but it could and should have been so much better.It starts out really well. The core of the book, the family at Swamplandia! trying to keep the park together after the mother's death? Liked it a lot. But as the narrative splits into its alternating POVs (Kiwi at the World of Darkness and Ava's quest) each tendril of the story becomes increasingly knotty and dried-out until they both apparently run out of steam and die off. I liked Kiwi a great deal, but most of the other characters are ghosts, vague outlines that haunt the protagonists from time to time, but remain sketches and interesting ideas, but not people. I needed more from them. I also found the depiction of The World of Darkness and its denizens pretty embarrassing to read at some points, my head almost caved in from being drilled with THE MESSAGE. And I struggled with Ava's POV especially. I LOVE precocious young female protagonists as a general rule, but Ava, frankly, seemed like such bullshit. Russell's elaborate choices while writing from her POV, and with the thick layers of surrealism slathered on top? Hot mess. I think what bothered me the most, however, was that the women of this book were dead, raped, or crazy, or vapid and slutty (that drowning non-victim girl, I CAN'T), while Kiwi gets to be a hero and pilot, no one sticks hot pokers in the Chief's eyes or groin for being THE WORST FATHER OF ALL TIME, the BirdMan disappears back into the swamp to rape another day... ugh, I just can't. I was promised a story about kickass alligator-wrestling ladies, and I got this. BLAHURGH.Maybe I lied, 2 stars is definitely all I am willing to give for this effort. Maybe next time, Karen Russell.

  • Annet
    2019-03-07 18:01

    Weird and fascinating....

  • Madeline
    2019-03-21 19:21

    When I read Karen Russell's debut short story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, I was frustrated by the way almost all the stories stopped rather than ended, leaving unanswered questions and no resolutions. Which is a shame - Russell's writing is gorgeous, and she creates these endlessly fascinating characters and settings that walk the line between reality and magical realism. I was excited to start this book - an expanded look at the family of alligator wrestlers and owners of the title's theme park that we saw in "Ava Wrestles the Alligator." I figured that if Russell had the space of a novel to tell this family's story, surely she could manage to give us a halfway-satisfying ending, and I could spend more time reading about her not-quite-real-world setting. I'll say this much: the ending could have been much worse. It's not the best, and gives the impression of being hastily thrown together when Russell realized that she had written herself into a corner, and some elements to the resolution were utterly predictable (the second she introduced the idea of Kiwi taking flying lessons, I knew that Ava would be eventually rescued from the swamp when Kiwi spotted her from the plane, and that's exactly what happened). But it was more satisfying than her short story endings, so I'm going to give it a pass. There are a lot of elements in the book that we saw in the short story "Ava Wrestles the Alligator." Osceola's relationship with ghosts forms the main plot, when she runs off with her ghost boyfriend and Ava has to go searching for her with the help of the Birdman, who we also saw briefly in the short story. The Out to Sea retirement community is here, as is the Bowl-a-Bed motel, but we get a new setting at the World of Darkness, a theme park that's causing Swamplandia to go out of business. The pace meanders, with plot devices being introduced too late and too much time wasted between the important events. For instance, it takes far too long for Kiwi to leave Swamplandia to work at World of Darkness, and once he does Russell starts alternating chapters between Ava and Kiwi's perspectives, and everything interesting that happens in Kiwi's chapters takes up about eight pages all together - the rest is just filler. It's too bad, because this is a really cool idea for a book. Thirteen-year-old Ava, set on rescuing her sister from the ghost, goes on a journey to the Underworld, guided by the Birdman, who says that he has been there before. Russell lets us see several chapters of their trip through the swamp before she drops the bomb: Ava, in a crushing moment of understanding, realizes that the Birdman is just crazy, and they aren't in the Underworld at all, but lost in the swamp. It's a really, really cool moment, and it works so well because Russell's magical realism style of writing made it seem totally plausible that the entrance to the Underworld is located in a swamp, and that it could be reached by a teenage girl and her guide who can speak to birds. Like Ava, I totally bought that the Underworld was real in this world that Russell had created, and it was a great moment when both Ava and I realized that we'd been putting our faith in a lie. It was great, and made me forgive the book's previous issues. And then the Birdman raped Ava, and everything turned to shit. Look, I understand that terrible things like this happen all the time, and I know that authors shouldn't flinch from making terrible things happen to their protagonists if it adds to the story. But Ava's rape didn't serve any purpose at all. It happens, Ava escapes the Birdman, and that's pretty much it. No resolution, no reflection, no fucking reason to write a scene where an adult rapes a child. If the scene had been cut out of the book, it wouldn't have made any difference to the overall story - that's how little purpose the rape serves. If you're going to make me read a scene where a girl gets raped, you had better have a goddamn good reason for including it in the book, and Russell doesn't. Her writing is still gorgeous, and I love the world she's constructed. But there were too many little problems with this book, and one very very big problem, for me to justify giving this any more stars.

  • Hannah Garden
    2019-03-17 18:00

    Well . . . well, okay. Okay, no. I mean, yes--she has a seriously goddamn dazzling instinct when it comes to turning an exquisite phrase. And the plot is inventive. And it's set in Florida, land of my sticky swampy childhood (o heart, o little busted swampheart). But . . . she has NO instinct for measuring out her exquisite phrases in palatable dollops; she just smears them all over every page with the mindless wonky-eyed mania of a two-year old frosting a cake--globs and wads of sugarpaste everywhere, enough so I felt overloaded--bored, even. I mean, in a book so squelchy-full of lovely, lovely things-to-say, I did not dog-ear a single page, coz they all just ran together in a bad applesauce of Poetic Turns of Phrase.THE THING IS, THAT'S MY SHIT. So I feel like a real bummer bein' all down on it. I looooove a fucken squelchy overload of poetic turns of phrase! I looove sentimentality and self-indulgence and shameless melodrama, just love love love it!Which I think is maybe why I will try her short stories coz here's what I felt like the crux was: That that shit is superfly in small doses. But drawn out over the course of a novel, it fails. You get tired of the word "golden," even, which is like one of the best words EVARR especially when you are talking about Florida. We are so golden down there, so sticky swampy golden. But she wants to cram so much of this butter onto the bones of an Inventive Plot and man. No. Not for me, anyway, for me it did not hold.

  • Jeffrey Mervosh
    2019-03-06 14:23

    Wow. I loved this book. It is certainly not for everyone, as it is deeply dark and tragic and switches between silliness and terror in the unclear haze of magical realism, but it is also evocative, captivating, and full of wonderfully vivid prose ruminating on love and the loss of childhood. One of the best books and strongest characters (Ava) I have encountered in some time.Update: After two weeks to reflect and think about my review I've down-graded it to four stars. This isn't to take away from the book's beauty, arresting narration, or depth of character in Ava. I still highly recommend it as one of the more enjoyable and affecting books I have read in the past few years. This revision is merely an acknowledgment that the book is imperfect. Magical Realism aside, the haze of understanding what gripped and motivated the characters outside of Ava and, to a lesser extent, Kiwi is far too murky. And the ending - which I won't ruin here - is rushed and entirely unsatisfactory given the immensity of events that immediately precede it. Ava, whose emotional intelligence is so high through so much of the book, suddenly seems out of tune with reality. The adults, confronted with something defying explanation, never seek one. Perhaps if the book had ended thirty pages earlier it would have been a more complete novel. Instead, after an incredible first three acts, the fourth feels rushed and the fifth is simply disappointing.

  • Paula Margulies
    2019-02-28 14:07

    A lushly written, quirky, and oddly compelling book, although I felt a little cheated after finishing it, mainly because of the loosely-ended plot. The setting is one of the best I've seen in fiction -- a steamy, mucky Florida swampland theme park called Swamplandia! hosted by the Bigtrees, a family of alligator wrestlers. The main character, Ava, is plucky and devoted to her family, which unravels when her mother, whose dives into an alligator-infested pond is the chief attraction at Swamplandia!, dies. An oddly belligerent and evasive father, Captain Bigtree, a geeky-smart and naive brother, Kiwi, who runs away at 17 to work at a mainland theme park, and a sister, Ossie, who has delusions about romances with dead men she conjures on her Ouija Board, complete the cast of characters. I was with the book until Ossie runs away with an imaginary dredge operator (whose overly long history I skimmed through), and Ava leaves to search for her with a stranger who calls himself the Bird Man. I wondered at the sexual implications of a thirteen-year-old girl and a strange man leading her into the swamp -- why did the inevitable result happen deep in the swamp rather than the first night he was alone with her at her house? Where did all the food they took with them come from (the two sisters were starving up until that point)? And why would Ava so easily give up the red-colored alligator she loved enough to take along on the journey? These questions are never answered, and the discovery of Captain Bigtree's work as a mainland casino showman seems a muted distraction to the last minute rescue of both girls. The story ends abruptly with a couple of pages of summary about the girls and their new lives on the mainland, leaving me wondering what it had all really been about. Switches from first-person (Ava) to third-person (Kiwi) narration aside, this book is beautifully written, with a mythic, hauntingly descriptive quality that echoes the dark, other-worldly environment the characters inhabit. But readers should be warned that the plot-line will take them on a bit of a wild (and, ultimately, unsettling) ride.

  • A.J. Howard
    2019-03-02 12:02

    Swamplandia! begs George Saunders references. Karen Russell shares Saunders fascination with the peculiar Americana of the tourist trap. The titular attraction here is the island home of the Bigtree Tribe, a family of eratz Indian alligator wrestlers. However, whereas the attractions become characters of Saunders' stories, Russell's characters are themselves the attractions of Swamplandia. Their faces appear on the billboards and promotional material and one of the attractions is a museum devoted to the families history that features baby pictures and wedding dresses. So when Hilola Bigtree succumbs to cancer, the clan not only loses its matriarch, but also its chief attraction.The narrator of much of the novel is Ava, the youngest of the Bigtree children. Russell does a pretty deft trick with this voice. Ava's narrative hints at magical realism but actually depicts an adolescent's disenchantment with the magical world of childhood and confrontation with the harsh and often terrifying world of the adult. However, once this realization is made, this part of the novel loses much of its force and becomes somewhat monotonous. After a certain point, Russell runs out of things to say but the narrative contineus.The other portion of the novel is devoted to Ava's brother, Kiwi, who runs away to the mainland in an effort to save the family but finds himself working at a competing amusement park, the Biblically inspired World of Darkness. I found these sections to be ultimately more interesting than Ava's story. However, Russel's narrative structure is somewhat disjointed. Almost the first hundred pages are told from Ava's first person perspective. However, after Kiwi runs away, the chapters alternate between the continued story of Ava and a third-person narrative of Kiwi's struggles on the mainland. The alternating narratives never really coincided in either temporal location or theme and I found this to really disjointed and somewhat clumsy.Although I was unimpressed by her first novel I still think Karen Russell is a writer to keep an eye on. The novel suggests that Russell is a great short-story writer, and at times this novel really betrays its roots as an expanded short story. Maybe Russell is one of those writers who are never able to transform their ideas into a cohesive narrative for a full-length novel. Maybe I'm a sucker for a writer for my home town, but I still believe that this is Russell's A.M. (the Wilco debut) a derivative and somewhat disappointing debut that shows promises of future greatness. In the end, Swamplandia! exhibits the fact that Russell has a lot of creative ideas and interesting things to say. Unfortunately the combination of these elements creates a disjointed, muddled, and monotonous disappointment.

  • Karin
    2019-03-09 15:55

    This young author was successful at writing narrative in the first person, characterized simultaneously by the limited perspective and understanding of a child and insights befitting an adult. Her descriptions of the flora and fauna of a Florida swamp suggest an interest or training in botony/zoology, and she writes persuasively and sensitively about her protagonist's parents - a couple trying, and failing, to live outside of society to realize their Utopian dream on the island known as Swamplandia!I had two criticisms of this otherwise enjoyable book: First, I can suspend disbelief, but only for so long and under the right conditions...and when an author resorts to stretching it too far (having a 16-year old learn to fly an airplane, and on his first time out, happen upon not one, but TWO of his lost sisters - for whom he was not looking- then execute a perfect landing to rescue them both in the swamps) in order to wrap things up, I feel betrayed.Second, going for the happy ending is appealing as an author...but when characters are as deeply flawed as these, it is hard to see how any ending not involving Child Protective Custody is not in order. The authors decision to place the two daughters back in the hands of their negligent father is abhorrent to the point of creating in me feelings for this book best described as guttural revulsion.

  • Megan Baxter
    2019-03-26 14:56

    Swamplandia is the story of a family on the verge of failure, and the various ways that collapse comes to pass after Hilola Bigtree, mother, wife and celebrated alligator wrestler, dies suddenly. It's the story of a family struggling in uncertain economic times, being squeezed out by a corporate theme park, and the various ways Chief Bigtree and his three children, Kiwi, Osceola and Ava try to cope.Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  • Allie Riley
    2019-03-03 18:20

    Very powerful. Can the alligator- wrestling Bigtree family survive the death of their star (and beloved mother) Hilola and the popularity of new rival theme park 'World of Darkness'? Each family member reacts differently to the two- pronged crisis but when elder daughter Osceola slopes off to the Underworld to marry her host fiance, Louis Thanksgiving, and her 13 year-old sister enlists the help of the enigmatic Bird Man to go after her, the family unity is tested to its limits. Brilliantly written and wholly absorbing, this is a stunning novel.

  • Rebecca Renner
    2019-02-26 18:02

    I live-tweeted my reading of part of this book (because I'm hunkered down for Hurricane Irma but thankfully I still have power). For a more extensive version of my thoughts on Swamplandia!, you can read the series of tweets.In the end, I thought that Swamplandia! was a novel that really should have been a few strong short stories instead.There was a lot to like about the book. I especially enjoyed the specificity Russell used when she talked about ecology, flora and fauna, and Florida history. Those are some of my main areas of writing and research, and I'm a real stickler about them. So to impress me on that front is a huge deal.What got in the way of me enjoying the book more was, as Karen Auvinen put it on twitter, Swamplandia! "gets confused about what kind of book it wants to be." There's a dissociation between the tone and diction of the narration from the setting and the events of the story. It's like the narrator is a talking head floating over all of it. She isn't part of the world. She doesn't seem to belong there. Kiwi's sections are different. I honestly really did like his first section in The Underworld.It's a novel by a short story writer, much too episodic and without a strong enough through line.In the end, Swamplandia! wasn't terrible, but it didn't really come through for me. It was too messy, too indecisive. It was a book with a lot of potential that tried to be too many kinds of books at once. If it had done a few of those things well and nixed the rest, this would have been a really stellar book. Instead, the indecision made it just "okay" for me. 3.5 stars

  • Jon
    2019-03-17 13:21

    I loved this book. By turns, it’s funny, whimsical, satirical, and more than a little gothic as it tells the story of plucky 13 year old Ava Bigtree, her family, and their gator-wrestling themed amusement park, Swamplandia, located deep in the Florida Everglades. Anyone expecting realism will be disappointed. The book is filled with eccentric characters and the plot takes a hard right turn into the supernatural early on. The eccentricity starts with the Bigtree family themselves. Though the parents are white transplants from the Mid-West, the father is referred to as “Chief” and the family is presented as members of an Indian tribe in a politically incorrect bit of cultural appropriation to fool the tourists:“Although there was not a drop of Seminole or Miccosukee blood in us, the Chief always costumed us in tribal apparel for the photographs he took. He said we were “our own Indians.” Our mother had a toast-brown complexion that a tourist could maybe squint and call Indian—and Kiwi, Grandpa Sawtooth, and I could hold our sun. But my sister, Osceola, was born snowy—not a weak chamomile blond but pure frost, with eyes that vibrated somewhere between maroon and violet. Her face was like our mother’s face cast forward onto cloudy water. Before we posed for the picture on that billboard, our mother colored her in with drugstore blusher. The Chief made sure she was covered by the shadow of a tree. Kiwi liked to joke that she looked like the doomed sibling you see in those Wild West daguerreotypes, the one who makes you think, Oh God, take the picture quick; that kid is not long for this world”.The early sections of the novel are brimming with humor and whimsy and I laughed out loud more than a few times:“We had one mammal, Judy Garland, a small, balding Florida brown bear who had been rescued as a cub by my grandparents, back when bears still roamed the pinewoods of the northern swamp. Judy Garland’s fur looked like a scorched rug—my brother said she had ursine alopecia. She could do a trick, sort of: the Chief had trained her to nod along to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Everybody, without exception, hated this trick. Her Oz-nods terrified small children and shocked their parents. “Somebody, help! This bear is having a seizure!” the park guests would cry—the bear had bad rhythm—but we had to keep her, said the Chief. The bear was family”.Russell is an exceptional writer and she writes descriptive sentences that made me ache with jealousy: the alligators have “icicle overbites”, the night sky is “star-lepered”, and at one point, she describes how “the wind kept trying to pluck the orange petals of our fire”. I lost count how many times I thought to myself “oh, that was good” as I read one of her sentences.The story starts out in the swamp based, alligator theme park of Swamplandia and soon splits into two different narratives told in alternating chapters. Soon after the novel’s start, Ava’s older brother, Kiwi, leaves the island and runs away to the main land, where he gets a job at a Dantes Inferno-themed water park, The World of Darkness. The story becomes very satirical in these chapters and is reminiscent of several stories in George Saunder’s book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. At The World of Darkness, guests are called “lost souls” and can buy Dante’s burritos from Beelzebub’s Snack Shack, and swim in The Lake of Fire (a pool dyed the color of red punch). Home schooled and sheltered, Kiwi is socially awkward and portrayed as an innocent trying to cope with the main land world he’s suddenly thrust into. The satire comes fast and furious in these chapters.Ava’s story takes a distinct gothic and eerie turn as her sister runs away also and, fearing that Osceola is in danger, Ava sets out to find her with the help of a vagabond called the Bird Man. A sort of avian Pied Piper wearing a coat of feathers and perhaps possessing magical qualities, the Bird Man travels around the islands of the Everglades offering to remove troublesome birds for a fee:"What's your name?""Ava.""Ava." The Bird Man shook my hand. "Can you keep a secret?" He reached his gloved hand out and pressed two fingers against my lips. "Listen to this." The first three sounds he made were familiar to me. A green-backed heron, a feral peacock, a bevy of coots. Then he made another, much deeper noise, as close to an alligator bellow as I have heard a human make but not quite that, exactly. It flew up octaves into an otherworldly keen. A braided sound, a rainbow sound. I stepped closer, and closer still, in spite of myself. I tried to imagine what species of bird could make a sound like that. A single note, held in an amber suspension of time, like a charcoal drawing of Icarus falling. It was sad and fierce all at once, alive with a lonely purity. It went on and on, until my own lungs were burning."What bird were you calling?" I asked finally, when I couldn't stand it any longer.The Bird Man stopped whistling. He grinned, so that I could see all his pebbly teeth."You."My only complaint is the jarring change in tone that Ava’s story takes towards the end of the novel. Russell spent most of the novel building a latticework of whimsy and magic realism that she abruptly smashes apart as the story takes a dark and disturbing twist. I suppose you could say that the novel is a story of innocence lost and that the “magic” in the earlier parts of Ava’s story is just the world as seen through the eyes of a child. Ava is still enough of a child to believe in the ghosts that her sister claims to see, that a hidden portal to the underworld exists, and that a man wearing a coat of feathers possesses magical powers. I suppose I’m enough of a kid at heart to want to believe in those things also and would have preferred if the story finished up the way it started .“Sad and fierce all at once, alive with a lonely purity” is a fitting description of Ava’s character and Russell has written a winning novel of a dysfunctional family trying to hold on.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-03-16 13:55

    When I found out that Karen Russell turned one of her short stories from St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories into a novel, I knew I had to read it. The story this is expanded from is "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," and as far as I can tell, the story can easily be contained within the time period of the novel. It may happen slightly before.I'm a little torn on this book. I've read some reviews that shred it, and I understand their points, but I think other strengths of the book redeem it from the dismissal they've given it. Pros:I do love the way Russell describes things, and the swamp is mysterious, unpleasant, and beautiful all at once.The idea of expanding a short story. How many times have I wished for that? That allows the reader to learn more about the Bigtrees. See cons for more on this. :)Library boat. These little tidbits create an amazing world of realistic fantasy for the Bigtree children to live in.The little tidbits of beautiful writing, also found in her stories. I'll throw those in at the end.Cons:There is a shocking event around page 260. I saw it coming while hoping it wouldn't. The book finishes without it being dealt with. I hate that! The entire book, actually, ends too soon. Hard to say why without spoilers.Getting to know the Bigtrees takes some of the beauty of the quirky mysterious peek we get in the short story version. (view spoiler)[Instead of a kooky sister who sees ghosts, Ossie is just crazy. Instead of a girl who sees magic in the swamp, we see a young girl get violated and used. Instead of a boy who dreams of escaping the swamp for an ivy league, he is ridiculed and sees that he will never measure up. It ends up depressing instead of mysterious. There was never a sense of realism in the short stories, and its presence in the novel ends up leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. At the same time I'm not sure I can fault the author for this. If it had been more fantastical it would have seemed false. What can she do? (hide spoiler)]I do think it is worth reading. "Hopes were like these ladies, Mom told us. Hopes were wallflowers. Hopes hugged the perimeter of a dance floor in your brain, tugging at their party lace, all perfume and hems and doomed expectation. They fanned their dance cards, these guests that pressed against the walls of your heart....She touched her IV bag and sighed to us that a wallflower in bloom was very very angry, very scary.""I didn't have a normal kid's ideas of the Lord as an elderly mainland guy on a throne. The God I prayed to I thought of as the mother, the memory of love.""Sweating could feel dangerous when you were alone in the swamp, as if droplet by droplet your body might get whisked into the sun.""When you are a kid, you don't know yet that a secret, like an animal, can evolve. Like an animal, a secret can develop a self-preserving intelligence. Shaglike, mute and thick, a knowledge with a fur: your secret."

  • Janetmanley
    2019-03-12 12:24

    Although Karen Russell claims her indebtedness to several authors in the acknowledgments of “Swamplandia,” the book was so rattlingly new to me, I didn't see the borrowings. I had a swell time wading through the pseudo-comedy-fantasy, which she centered around an alligator-wrestling theme park in mangrove swamp off Florida's coast, and populated by the eccentric "Bigtree" family, headed up by the indefatigable Chief Bigtree (until he *was* "defatigable"). When I reached a climax of sorts three-quarters of the way through, I realized how perfectly Russell had set up the book to close in around you. The title, replete with exclamation mark, the sight gags – Kiwi sitting in the mouth of the giant whale on break, Hell’s swimming pools, the Bigtree Family Museum etc. – set up a sort of false enthusiasm for the world that follows. Similarly, the facade of sad, cheap, remote amusement parks that constitutes 11-year-old Ava's world - the world that her parents created for her, far from the "mainland" - disintegrates around her on the furthest point from home of her journey. The overriding theme seemed to be loss of the safety, protection and love that a parent provided – and as far as dead parents go, Hilola BigTree is a hell of a character. More broadly, it captures that interface between childhood and adulthood, in a similar fashion to the Dave Eggers film version of Where the Wild Things Are - I love when authors do that. Quirky but dignified, I am blown away by Russell’s writing, and dismayed at how young she is to have created something so unique and beautiful.