Customer Reviews for

Swamplandia!

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

13 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

Readers who enjoy something cutting edge different will want Swamplandia!

Florida is known for some of the oddest tourist attractions (some might say traps) on the planet. The state is home to Swamplandia where Bigtree alligator-wrestling has gone on for ages. However, several recent setbacks place the family business in jeopardy as the onc...
Florida is known for some of the oddest tourist attractions (some might say traps) on the planet. The state is home to Swamplandia where Bigtree alligator-wrestling has gone on for ages. However, several recent setbacks place the family business in jeopardy as the once popular stop appears heading to bankrupt extinction.

There are talent issues as the star wrestler Hilia who brought in the masses to watch a female pin alligators recently died. The older daughter Ossie has fallen in love and elopes with a ghost of a man. Adding insult their brother Kiwi accepts a position as janitor at their more powerfully backed rival the World of Darkness. Finally the patriarch Chief Bigtree has vanished. Thus the youngest sibling thirteen years old Ava takes over her late mom's spot as the show must go on, but lacks her glamour and experience and besides has to herd just under a hundred gators and care for the park while controlling her grief. However, all changes when Ava believes she must rescue her father trapped in hell otherwise known as Gulf of Mexico; her allies are Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and her BFF the midget alligator; at stake is her dad, the park and their island.

This is a wonderful odd fantasy with the key players fully substantial that they bring core realism to the capricious tale. Obviously this is Ava's saga but the support cast enhances her save her world story line. Readers who enjoy something cutting edge different will want Swamplandia! Tour guide Karen Russell escorting them around the island, the park, and the Gulf in this enchanting but strange thriller (see St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves anthology for more entertainingly refreshing)tales.

Harriet Klausner

posted by harstan on January 17, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

Almost There, But Not Quite

I enjoyed Swamplandia! but it is not a book I would really recommend. It's merit is in it's characters. All are individually interesting and vibrant and even more so when thought of as a family. Russell goes into wonderful detail explaning the the rich and colorful Bigt...
I enjoyed Swamplandia! but it is not a book I would really recommend. It's merit is in it's characters. All are individually interesting and vibrant and even more so when thought of as a family. Russell goes into wonderful detail explaning the the rich and colorful Bigtree family and their Seths. It's the plot that's lacking! The first, descriptive, half of the book is fabulous, but so much more could've been done with the second half. The plotline gets confusing. I foudn myself asking "WHERE IS THIS BOOK GOING?" Not enough attention is paid to individual storylines and although the book felt too long, there needed to be more at the end. What happened to Ossie during her journey w/LT? What happened to the Birdman? What happened to Ava? What happened to Swamplandia!? While Russell touches upon all these questions, she doesn't fully answer them. You feel connected & interested to the characters and their sagas. You wonder about their fates, and then BOOM. THE END. This book needed more. That being said, I did LIKE it, but not enough to confidently recommend it to anyone.

posted by Maggie83 on February 10, 2011

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  • Posted February 10, 2011

    Almost There, But Not Quite

    I enjoyed Swamplandia! but it is not a book I would really recommend. It's merit is in it's characters. All are individually interesting and vibrant and even more so when thought of as a family. Russell goes into wonderful detail explaning the the rich and colorful Bigtree family and their Seths. It's the plot that's lacking! The first, descriptive, half of the book is fabulous, but so much more could've been done with the second half. The plotline gets confusing. I foudn myself asking "WHERE IS THIS BOOK GOING?" Not enough attention is paid to individual storylines and although the book felt too long, there needed to be more at the end. What happened to Ossie during her journey w/LT? What happened to the Birdman? What happened to Ava? What happened to Swamplandia!? While Russell touches upon all these questions, she doesn't fully answer them. You feel connected & interested to the characters and their sagas. You wonder about their fates, and then BOOM. THE END. This book needed more. That being said, I did LIKE it, but not enough to confidently recommend it to anyone.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011

    Not for everyone, but the lady can write.

    When you're reading Swamplandia! you know you're in the hands of a writer who can make you gasp at her ability to use language, who knows more strange and interesting stuff than just about anyone you've met, and who has a boundless imagination. The trouble is she doesn't always know what to do with all these gifts and the reader doesn't always know what to make of the book. I didn't have any difficulty making the journey (the journeys) just for the sheer pleasure of Ava's and Kiwi's company. But like her characters I did sometimes feel lost along the way. And, at the end, looking back, I don't know what to make of the trip. I do have the feeling that there were a couple of places in the book where Russell made some wrong turns and got pulled into the vortex of her own brilliance. But to be sure, I will read her next.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2012

    Great writer but the story is disappointing

    I was enjoying the style of Karen Russel's writing. It is very vivid and her world comes alive off the pages. The description of the characters was also very good. What I didn't like was the story itself. First off I felt the main character was a bit old for her age considering she led such a sheltered life. The pacing was odd too especially at the end. It wrapped up too quickly. I also felt it was so unsatisfying in the end. I think Ms Russell has a great style I just hope her story is better the next time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2012

    I'm being kind...

    I think I'm being kind when I give this book three stars. It's not that the writing was bad, because honestly, it wasn't. It wasn't that the characters were awful, because they weren't. Mainly it's because about half way through this book all of the characters take a nose dive towards disaster and are basically ruined by life. From the start you know that life won't be easy for them but you continue to read it because the characters are loveable and have such great souls. By the end, the world is pretty much a confirmed poophole from which no one gets out alive.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 4, 2011

    Library read, until there's a paperback

    The Book Report: The Bigtree family, two-generation swamp folks, have reached the end of their useful lives as purveyors of alligator wrestling and mild amusements to the tourists of fictional Loomis County, in the Ten Thousand Islands. Chief Sam Bigtree loses his wife Hilola, and after that the will to make his living there in the swamps with his three children, 17-year-old Kiwi, 16-year-old Osceola, and 10-year-old Ava. The book follows the misadventures of Ava, who is left alone on the island with the older, but seemigly tetched, Osceola, a girl who believes with all her heart that she is in touch with the spirit world, and specifically with a dead teenaged dredgeman from the 1930s called Louis Thanksgiving. Ava, older in spirit than Ossie, pokes fun at her sister's new beau the ghost. Things turn scary when Ossie, in the grips of what she insists is a spirit possession, abandons Ava and sets out for some Calusa Indian mounds which are locally believed to be a gateway to the underworld. Kiwi, meantime, has gone to "the mainland" (a place of fear and derision to the Bigtrees one and all) to work at the competing theme park. His journey from odd man out to local hero with self-confidence is about 1/3 of the book, told from third person limited PoV. Ava's hunt for Ossie through the swamp country, as aided by a tall, skinny stranger called the Bird Man, is the bulk of the book, told in first person as a flashback. What happens to Ava in the swamp is terrifying, what with the belief she has of traveling a spirit landscape into the Underworld in search of Ossie. What happens to Ossie on a similar journey is harrowing when we finally hear it from her mouth. All is finally put right in this weird and fractured family, the deus ex machina unfolding its long and shining arm to bring forth happiness and contentment. Of a very mitigated sort.

    My Review: Well, now. Where to begin. Lushness and loveliness of language? Yes, there is that. Resonant Hero's Journey to the Gates of Hell, complete with safe return? Check. Obligatory abuse of women and children by older men? Sadly, that's here too, though God knows I wish it wasn't.

    This is a first novel by a talented writer. I am sorry to say that it relies a little too much on currently fsahionable tropes to merit a good rating. I am sick unto death of novels by women that use adult males as bogeymen, from neglectful father to deceitful and abusive "helper." Stop it. It's boring. And, in case any of you women writers want to think outside your comfort zone for a second, what message is this sending to the girls in the world? Be afraid of men? And to the boys, you are intrinsically bad and evil and not to be trusted by women? Are these little details not immediately obvious to you, and if not, why not?

    But the book in question is, as noted above, lush and lovely of language. Its phrases are smooth and silken in my mental ear. Its images are beautifully crafted. Its mythic structure is nicely handled, though I could have done completely without the whole Kiwi thing. One hopes that Karen Russell will see past this lazy co-opting of trendy shibboleths and create something as beautifully thought out as it is written.

    Should you read this book? Yeah, well, they're your eyes, blink 'em at whatever makes you happy. Me, I'd go to the liberry to get the book, not shell out most of $30 to procure it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Eloqent, extrordinary. Encouraging

    READ about Ava's family and the Chief's schemes, and wish for better circumstances for this poor sleep-deprived child. Hope for Kiwi to rescue the family as he wanders from the Island home to the Mainland to learn new value systems. Draw parallels between Kiwi and the Dredgeman, who also left his home during difficult circumstances.
    Admire the descriptions given by author Karen Russell. Her lush language takes you to the steamy south of the U.S., the sickly sweet of theme parks and their seamy sides endured by employees. Watch history unfold in three generations, as women stand by their men through bad land deals, exploitative carnival acts and schemes, and even death (of the beloved man, that is).
    It's a wild read complete with themes, parallels, imagery, and two points of view.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2015

    didn't have to go there

    The plot takes a very unfortunate turn. But for that, would have enjoyed it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2013

    Swamplandia

    Decent read but best audience would be 13 - 17. I could see plot twists coming, kept hoping for something anything, not bad. I am an older been there before reader, my expectation was more Hiasen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2013

    Strange but well written

    The concept was really good but it just seemed to go nowhere until the last 1/4 of the book.

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  • Posted February 10, 2013

    The first 80 pages are among the best I have read in a very long

    The first 80 pages are among the best I have read in a very long time. Truly, magic fills the park. 
    Yet, when the story is taken out of the park, characters dissimulated throughout the world we already know (except one), a world that Russell doesn't especially do anything interesting with, the story suffers.
    Were this a novella, employing only the first 80 pages and 40 more for conflict resolution, it would be near perfection.  But Russell had to stretch a great concept into a novel, diluting it like coffee with too much milk.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2012

    Well-written, started out as promising, but fell flat

    The story starts out very promising, very novel, and not at all predictable. The heroine is a young alligator wrestler who is being home-schooled in the Everglades. I enjoyed the first half of the book very much -- but then it took a bizarre turn, complete with the sister being possessed by ghosts, and a rape of the young heroine that somehow she didn't mind. I was mortified that the author would paint child sexual abuse in such a humdrum light. And the ending was unfulfilling, with the family simply moving to the mainland and starting a "normal" life.

    I would read other books by this author, though. I think she's got a lot of talent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2012

    Swampy!

    Thanks to Ruben Piirainen for this book recommendation. The eccentric family and exotic settings made for an entertaining and dizzied read. The characters' weirdness, however, led to me feeling unsympathetic towards most of them by the end of the story; the book left a swampy impression.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    Critics Loved It, Me Not so Much

    Sure it's fun to read about dreamers and schemers and we've all gone to some gonzo roadside attraction and wondered whose idea that was anyway. (Right before we realize that we left OUR money there, didn't we?) I just couldn't get past the children who were being neglected in the name of the family obsession. Not light enough to be a romp and not insightful enough to justify the dysfunction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    It was an ok book

    Kind of slow at the beginnign, although later on gets interesting, as you don't know if the book is about the park, ghosts, spirits or what

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2012

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    Posted December 29, 2012

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    Posted April 25, 2011

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    Posted April 18, 2011

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    Posted February 17, 2011

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    Posted February 21, 2011

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