Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness.
As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Karen Russell, a native of Miami, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia! (2011), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Philadelphia.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: The Beginning of the End
Our mother performed in starlight. Whose innovation this was I never discovered. Probably it was Chief Bigtree’s idea, and it was a good one—to blank the follow spot and let a sharp moon cut across the sky, unchaperoned; to kill the microphone; to leave the stage lights’ tin eyelids scrolled and give the tourists in the stands a chance to enjoy the darkness of our island; to encourage the whole stadium to gulp air along with Swamplandia!’s star performer, the world-famous alligator wrestler Hilola Bigtree. Four times a week, our mother climbed the ladder above the Gator Pit in a green two-piece bathing suit and stood on the edge of the diving board, breathing. If it was windy, her long hair flew around her face, but the rest of her stayed motionless. Nights in the swamp were dark and star-lepered—our island was thirty-odd miles off the grid of mainland lights—and although your naked eye could easily find the ball of Venus and the sapphire hairs of the Pleiades, our mother’s body was just lines, a smudge against the palm trees.
Somewhere directly below Hilola Bigtree, dozens of alligators pushed their icicle overbites and the awesome diamonds of their heads through over three hundred thousand gallons of filtered water. The deep end—the black cone where Mom dove—was twenty-seven feet; at its shallowest point, the water tapered to four inches of muck that lapped at coppery sand. A small spoil island rose out of the center of the Pit, a quarter acre of dredged limestone; during the day, thirty gators at a time crawled into a living mountain on the rocks to sun themselves.
The stadium that housed the Gator Pit seated 265 tourists. Eight tiered rows ringed the watery pen; a seat near the front put you at eye level with our gators. My older sister, Osceola, and I watched our mother’s show from the stands. When Ossie leaned forward, I leaned with her.
At the entrance to the Gator Pit, our father—the Chief—had nailed up a crate-board sign: YOU WATCHERS IN THE FIRST FOUR ROWS GUARANTEED TO GET WET! Just below this, our mother had added, in her small, livid lettering: ANY BODY COULD GET HURT.
The tourists moved sproingily from buttock to buttock in the stands, slapping at the ubiquitous mosquitoes, unsticking their khaki shorts and their printed department-store skirts from their sweating thighs. They shushed and crushed against and cursed at one another; couples curled their pale legs together like eels, beer spilled, and kids wept. At last, the Chief cued up the music. Trumpets tooted from our big, old-fashioned speakers, and the huge unseeing eye of the follow spot twisted through the palm fronds until it found Hilola. Just like that she ceased to be our mother. Fame settled on her like a film—“Hilola Bigtree, ladies and gentlemen!” my dad shouted into the microphone. Her shoulder blades pinched back like wings before she dove.
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’s follow spot cast a light like a rime of ice onto the murk, and Mom swam inside this circle across the entire length of the lake. People screamed and pointed whenever an alligator swam into the spotlight with her, a plump and switching tail cutting suddenly into its margarine wavelengths, the spade of a monster’s face jawing up at her side. Our mother swam blissfully on, brushing at the spotlight’s perimeter as if she were testing the gate of a floating corral.
Like black silk, the water bunched and wrinkled. Her arms rowed hard; you could hear her breaststrokes ripping at the water, her gasps for air. Now and then a pair of coal-red eyes snagged at the white net of the spotlight as the Chief rolled it over the Pit. Three long minutes passed, then four, and at last she gasped mightily and grasped the ladder rails on the eastern side of the stage. We all exhaled with her. Our stage wasn’t much, just a simple cypress board on six-foot stilts, suspended over the Gator Pit. She climbed out of the lake. Her trembling arms folded over the dimple of her belly button; she spat water, gave a little wave.
The crowd went crazy.
When the light found her a second time, Hilola Bigtree—the famous woman from the posters, the “Swamp Centaur”—was gone. Our mother was herself again: smiling, brown-skinned, muscular. A little thicker through the waist and hips than she appeared on those early posters, she liked to joke, since she’d had her three kids.
“Mom!” Ossie and I would squeal, racing around the wire fence and over the wet cement that ringed the Gator Pit to get to her before the autograph seekers elbowed us out. “You won!”
My family, the Bigtree tribe of the Ten Thousand Islands, once lived on a hundred-acre island off the coast of southwest Florida, on the Gulf side of the Great Swamp. For many years, Swamplandia! was the Number One Gator-Themed Park and Swamp Café in the area. We leased an expensive billboard on the interstate, just south of Cape Coral: COME SEE "SETH," FANGSOME SEA SERPENT AND ANCIENT LIZARD OF DEATH!!! We called all our alligators Seth. (“Tradition is as important, kids,” Chief Bigtree liked to say, “as promotional materials are expensive.”) The billboard featured a ten-foot alligator, one of the Seths, hissing soundlessly. Its jaws gape to reveal the rosebud pink of a queen conch shell; its scales are a wet-looking black. We Bigtrees are kneeling around the primordial monster in reverse order of height: my father, the Chief; my grandfather, Sawtooth; my mother, Hilola; my older brother, Kiwi; my sister, Osceola; and finally, me. We are wearing Indian costumes on loan from our Bigtree Gift Shop: buckskin vests, cloth headbands, great blue heron feathers, great white heron feathers, chubby beads hanging off our foreheads and our hair in braids, gator “fang” necklaces.
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.
Our park housed ninety-eight captive alligators in the Gator Pit. We also had a Reptile Walk, a two-mile-long boardwalk through the paurotis palms and saw grass that my grandfather and father designed and built. There you could see caimans, gharials, Burmese and Afri- can pythons, every variety of tree frog, a burrow hole of red-bellied turtles and lachrymose morning glories, and a rare Cuban crocodile, Methuselah—a croc that was such an expert mimic of a log that it had moved only once in my presence, when its white jaw fell open like a suitcase.
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.
Our park had an advertising campaign that was on par with the best of the aqua-slide attractions and the miniature golf courses; we had the cheapest beer in a three-county radius; and we had wrestling shows 365 days a year, rain or shine, no federal holidays, no Christian or pagan interruptions. We Bigtrees had our problems, too, of course, like anybody—Swamplandia! had been under siege from several enemy forces, natural and corporate, for most of my short lifetime. We islanders worried about the menace of the melaleuca woods—the melaleuca, or paperbark tree, was an exotic invasive species that was draining huge tracts of our swamp to the northeast. And everybody had one eye on the sly encroachment of the suburbs and Big Sugar in the south. But it always seemed to me like my family was winning. We had never been defeated by the Seths. Every Saturday evening (and most weeknights!) of our childhoods, our mom performed the Swimming with the Seths act and she always won. For a thousand shows, we watched our mother sink into black water, rise. For a thousand nights, we watched the green diving board quaking in air, in the bright wake of her.
And then our mom got sick, sicker than a person should ever be allowed to get. I was twelve when she got her diagnosis and I was furious. There is no justice and no logic, the cancer doctors cooed around me; I don’t remember the exact words they used, but I could not decode a note of hope. One of the nurses brought me chocolate duds from the vending machine that stuck in my throat. These doctors were always stooping to talk to us, or so it seemed to me, like every doctor on her ward was a giant, seven or eight feet tall. Mom fell through the last stages of her cancer at a frightening speed. She no longer resembled our mother. Her head got soft and bald like a baby’s head. We had to watch her sink into her own face. One night she dove and she didn’t come back. Air cloaked the hole that she left and it didn’t once tremble, no bubbles, it seemed she really wasn’t going to surface. Hilola Jane Bigtree, world-class alligator wrestler, terrible cook, mother of three, died in a dryland hospital bed in West Davey on an overcast Wednesday, March 10, at 3:12 p.m.
What People are Saying About This
“Absolutely irresistible. . . . A suspenseful, deeply haunted book. . . . A marvel.” —The New York Times
“[Russell] has thrown the whole circus of her heart onto the page, safety nets be damned. . . . Russell has deep and true talent.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride. . . . This family, wrestling with their desires and demons . . . will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!” —The New York Times Book Review
“The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Seduces before you’ve turned the first page.” —People
“If no such thing as the Great Floridian Novel already existed, consider it done. . . . A novel of idiosyncratic and eloquent language; hyperreal, Technicolor settings; and larger-than-life characters who are nonetheless heartbreakingly vulnerable and keenly emotional. It’s a tour de force.” —Elle
“Beautiful, dark, and funny.” —Rolling Stone
“A spook-house masterpiece.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Dazzlingly original. . . . Like the state itself, Swamplandia! is a crossroads where the wild and the tame, the spectacular and the mundane meet; underneath the hubbub of the fantastic lies a family of misfits at sea in their grief—theirs is a story that is as ordinary as it is heartbreaking.” —Boston Globe
“Wonderfully imaginative.” —The Seattle Times
“A rich and humid world of spirits and dreams, buzzing mosquitoes and prehistoric reptiles, baby-green cocoplums and marsh rabbits, and musty old tomes about heroes and spells. With Ava [Russell] has created a goofy and self-conscious girl who is young enough to hope that all darkness has an answering lightness.” —The Economist
“A lusciously written phantasmagorical treat.” —Palm Beach Post
“Swamplandia! flashes brilliantly—holographically—between a surreal tale brimming with sophisticated whimsy and an all-too-realistic portrait of a quaint but dysfunctional family under pressure in a world that threatens to make them obsolete. . . . Ava is a true contemporary heroine and not easily forgotten.” —More
“Winningly told.” —Vogue
“Audacious, beguiling. . . . Ava’s story turns into a tale that could have been concocted by Flannery O’Connor in partnership with the Brothers Grimm—in other words, a first-class nightmare. . . . You will admire this novel for its prose, but you will love it for its big heart.” —The Daily Beast
“Ava’s juicy, poetic voice, assembled through sheer willpower and joie de vivre and desperation from a self-taught young genius’s love of language, is what carries this book. . . . [A] garish and fierce beauty.” —Salon
“The talent Karen Russell paraded in her remarkable short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves has turned into mastery.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“Swamplandia! is both a celebration of the Everglades and an elegy for it. . . . Russell has created a credible, captivating universe.” —The Sun Sentinel
“Think Scout Finch if she’d been raised in an old-school tourist attraction instead of a tiny town. Or Dorothy if a tornado had dropped her in the Everglades instead of Oz. Or Alice if she had tumbled into a Wonderland populated by gators and ghosts and a man in a coat made of feathers. . . . A story rich in fantastic images and gorgeous language, anchored . . . by its wonderfully human characters and its big, warm heart.” —St. Petersburg Times
“A rich, lively narrative (sometimes silly, sometimes sad) with gorgeous language. . . . Russell’s debut novel shines with the glow of the southern sun.” —The Oregonian
“Funny, sorrowful, and engrossing. . . . Hardly a page goes by without the reader marveling. . . . An adventure story, a tale of family, a testament to resilience and an account of America’s homogenization, Swamplandia! is an accomplished and affecting debut.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Unlike any story you’re familiar with. . . . A mesmerizing gothic portrait of love, death, and the loss of innocence.” —The Gainesville Times
“Russell’s writing is clear, rhythmic and dependable, even as her imagination runs wild.” —Los Angeles Times
“An astonishingly assured first novel.” —The Washington Times
“Some novels pull readers forward with plots that demand resolution; others make them want to linger on each sentence, bathing in the delights. Swamplandia! . . . does both, leaving readers with a sweet dilemma: Appreciate the present or forge on to find out what happens next.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“There’s simply no question that Russell writes beautifully, even about the darkest of truths.” —Time Out Chicago
“May be the best book you’ll ever read about a girl trying to save her family’s alligator-wrestling theme park.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Satisfying and heart-warming.” —Florida Times-Union
“Gorgeously written. . . . Russell’s flirtation with the fantastic adds a dangerous, off-kilter edge.” —Bookforum
“Intensely moving.”—The Onion’s A.V. Club, Grade: A
“[Russell’s] prose dazzles in any medium.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Russell’s prose is beautiful, vivid, and lovingly creepy—just like Florida itself. . . . Magnificent.” —The Stranger (Seattle, WA)
“[A] wonderfully overstuffed, scaldingly funny, and frightening debut. . . . Read this book, pass it on to those who deserve it, and be thankful that the world contains artists like Karen Russell.” —PopMatters.com
“Exuberant, big-hearted, and entertaining. . . . In the midst of making readers think, Russell also makes us laugh, cry and gasp as she concocts an amazing and undiscovered world and populates it with characters we come to care for deeply. You’ll want to savor the sentences in this literary triumph.” —Maclean’s
Reading Group Guide
1. Now that you’ve read the novel, go back and reread the epigraph. Why do you think Russell chose this quote?
2. Some of these characters first appeared in the story “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” in Russell’s collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Have you read that story? How does it compare to the novel?
3. “‘Tradition is as important, kids,’ Chief Bigtree liked to say, ‘as promotional materials are expensive.’” (page 6) Did the Chief show this in his actions? Which of the Bigtree tribe members paid the most respect to tradition?
4. How did Chief’s myth-making affect his children? How might things have been different if he’d been more truthful?
5. On page 36, Chief introduces his theory of Carnival Darwinism, which he thought would save Swamplandia! How might it have been successful? Why wasn’t it?
6. Where else does the notion of evolution come into play?
7. Belief—in Carnival Darwinism, in ghosts—plays a large role in the novel. What prompts Ossie’s beliefs? Ava’s? Where is the turning point in their belief systems?
8. Why do you think Ossie sees Louis and other ghosts, but never Hilola?
9. What does Ava’s red alligator represent? And the melaleuca trees?
10. Why do you think Russell interrupted the novel for the story of the Dredgeman’s Revelation? What exactly is the “revelation”?
11. There are biblical references throughout the book, especially in the World of Darkness sections. Why does Russell include them?
12. How do Kiwi’s actions affect his family? What do we learn via his sojourn on the mainland?
13. On page 183, the Bird Man tells Ava, “Nobody can get to hell without assistance, kid.” How does this compare to the quote from Dante that opens the chapter? What does it tell us about his character?
14. The three Bigtree children are innocent for their ages. Which one matures the most over the course of the novel?
15. The Bird Man calls the ending of the Dredgeman’s Revelation “a vanishing point.” (page 221) What does he mean by that?
16. Both the Bird Man and Vijay act as guides to a Bigtree sibling. How does each approach his role?
17. When Ava said “I love you” to the Bird Man on page 245, what did you expect to happen as a result?
18. On page 247, Ava recites a credo: “I believe the Bird Man knows a passage to the underworld. I believe that I am brave enough to do this. I have faith that we are going to rescue Ossie.” Was she right about any of this?
19. Did the Bird Man believe in the underworld, or did he have an ulterior motive all along?
20. How does Kiwi’s use of language change during the novel? What does it reflect?
21. Like the Dredgeman, several of the Bigtrees have revelations. Whose is the most surprising?
22. What is the significance of the Mama Weeds passage? What do we learn from it?
23. Why doesn’t Ava ever tell anyone what the Bird Man did?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
I'm still trying to figure out why this book has been popular. Frankly, I don't think I will finish it. It's all over the place, the overdone descriptions of each situation make me want to skip through large parts of the book. It's just not a book I look forward to picking up again. I'm reading it for a book club, and every other person in the club feels exactly the same way. I wouldn't waste your money on this one.
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
Taken in by the cover, I was intrigued enough to read a few lines. I was hooked from the beginning. Russel's prose are of such moving quality that I found myself riveted. Innocent and dark, insightful and all-too-relatable; I ached for Russel's characters. A truly brilliant new author. A must read for those who wander from the beaten path and enjoy the extraordinary.
It has been a vey long time since a book has intoxicated me as much as this one. Karen Russel's brilliant prose breathes to life unforgettable characters and reclaims the beauty of a forgotten geography. She gives the well worn theme of childhood lost a new perspective and keeps you turning pages until you are sorry there are none left.
This one falls apart about three chapters into the swamp. By the end I was rooting for the alligators. Too much story spread out over too many characters and a lack of development to care about any one of them or their plight. By the end, I just didn't care.
I was so gratified to see the number of people who did NOT like this book. I didn't either, and I wondered what was wrong with me, considering all the rave reviews it has gotten from professional critics. I was bored, frankly, and quit after about fifty pages. I was expecting something on the order of Carl Hiaasen, one of my favorite writers, and it wasn't, so that was my fault.
From the moment I read the synopsis of Swamplandia by Karen Russell, I knew I had to read it. Once I began reading, I could not help but think that the audience might include fans of Geek Love. I was not surprised to see that in her acknowledgments, Russell lists Geek Love author Katherine Dunn as an influence. No surprise, Geek Love is a favorite of mine. Swamplandia! is not a light-hearted tale. There are definitely things wrong in the Bigtree family after matriarch Hilola Bigtree's death. Hilola, the alligator wrestler, is the main attraction for Swamplandia! The family is unable to continue enticing tourists to their swampy island without Hilola. I don't want to spoil anything for potential readers, but very worrisome events occur after the tourists stop arriving. The book seemed somewhat slow-going at first, but the descriptions were vivid enough to keep me reading. It was all worth it. Swamplandia! is a new favorite for me. Many readers seem to have arrived at reading this book after enjoying Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. I am in the opposite camp. After reading Swamplandia!, I cannot wait to get my hands on her short story collection.
The fact that Karen Russel managed to produce such a honed gem of a book in her 20s (!) Is nearly uncanny. This book had so many shining facets to keep this reader in it's thrall- Eccentric outsiders,.characters so well-drawn that empathy is effortless, family ties, love, grief, wry humor, southern gothic ghost stories, history & science, heady atmospheres, teen angst & hardwon wisdom, trauma, adventure...and all shot through with bang-on metaphors, beautiful similies, descriptive vistas of aching beauty. Yes indeed, an awesome book and one of the finest credits to Florida lit. since Marjorie Keenan Rawlins' 'Cross Creek'.
Things are not going well in Swamplandia! Once a major tourist draw with hordes of visitors each day, the death of the show's main attraction has put a serious dent in the business. Even worse, the main attraction was also the mother of the Bigtree family that runs Swamplandia. Karen Russell's novel is the story of how this family comes to grip with the loss of their mother and the possible ending of the only life they have known; that of the Bigtree family of Swamplandia!. There are three children. Ossie, the oldest sister who is sixteen, has never been that involved with the business, being a fey girl who drifts through life. She becomes entranced with spiritualism and soon convinces herself that she can talk to the dead and that dead boys are perfect boyfriends. Kiwi, the oldest and only son, has always wanted a 'normal' life on the mainland, and leaves the Swamplandia! island, determined to make it on his own and then figure out how to save the park. Ava Bigtree is thirteen and the novel's protagonist. She loves the business and her only dream is to grow up and take over for her mother. Chief Bigtree, the father, is one of those optimistic people who is sure everything will work out even when he has no plan to make it happen. He leaves on a mysterious business trip shortly after Kiwi's departure, leaving the girls alone on the island. Ossie disappears into the swamp, chasing her ghostly love, and Ava soon goes into the swamp to rescue her. Will this family ever be reunited and made whole? Readers will love the fresh voice and writing style of Karen Russell. Ava's spirit is so big it jumps off the page, and the ability to experience life from her young perspective is intriguing. The characters are memorable, and the reader gets to experience the Florida swamps in all their murky, humid, bug-infested, dangerous appeal. This book is recommended for all readers, and especially those interested in coming of age stories and those of families finding their way to make a live together.
gothic metaphors. in touch with current culture. ironic. told so carefully, always almost funny then not. pain expressed with out excess juxtaposed to another kind excess told through seriously innocent eyes. feminine child perspective perfectly expressed. an engaging story, never read anything similar. kids wanting to save crumbling family. and they do. probably helps i was a disneyland kid:) wanting to save my family. IMO, this is art. best book i have read in years.
I think Karen Russel is an excellent author with great writing skill. The characters in this book are intriguing, the whole venture suffers by a weak and meandering plot. I'd be interested to read another Karen Russel novel but this one just barely makes it out of the swamp.
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.
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.
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.
Miss Russell certainly has a very original voice and very interesting way of describing events. But at times it can come on as too much. Ava is the narrator and tells the story of her family's circus of sorts, Swaplandia!, falling to pieces. Thing start off a bit slow, but the end is very engrossing. The book also tells of her brother Kiwi's adventures to try to rescue his family for foreclosure and his own struggles to fit in with society. Although at times a bit dark, Miss Russell shows real strength in her words and her characters. Ava is very endearing and one is at once sympathetic. Swamplandia1! is a very well-written book that some may love and others will disregard. But no one can say the Miss Russell is banal with her phrasing and prose!
Swamplandia is a interesting read! I did not think i would like this book because of it’s name. I thought it would be a little kids book. I quickly learned that it was quite the opposite. It had many twists and turns, with unexpected things happening all the time. By the first chapter i read i was hooked ,and could not put it down. The story is about alligator wrestlers, a girl who talks to the dead, gambling, and a odd family going through hard times. The book made me feel like i was part of the world the author created. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes good books that are a little strange. I think the book left me with some questions unanswered. I look forward to reading more of Karen Russell's books.
I chose this book because the critics were all raving about it. I will admit that Ms. Russell does have a nice way with words, and some of the lines and descriptions are quite clever, especially in Kiwi's story. In fact, I would say that I enjoyed his arc. Unfortunately, I found Ava's story alternately boring and horrifying. The descriptions of the lengthy swamp were repetitive and endless, although they did reaffirm my desire to never visit the Everglades. On a slight spoiler alert, I was baffled by how the author treated what happened to her. It was a major trauma that would have serious repercussions on Ava's life, and it seemed that the author chose to downplay it.
It takes a while to really get into the main plot of the story and the vocabulary is a little dense...especially if you know nothing about alligators or swamps...but overall a really interesting book. Not a typical coming of age story.
Given the harry potter and vampire success enjoyed recently, I would expect to see this book wildly popular.
I recommended this book from the hype alone. Big mistake! I found it disjointed, uninteresting, and forgettable. I did not bother finishing it. Too bad.
This novel begins really interestingly, and a reader really grows to like the characters (quickly). However, about halfway through, with the introduction of ghosts, it loses some of the qualities that made it enjoyable to begin with. Also, if there are other possibilities for moving a plotline, why choose rape? In this text, it seems random, weak, and a little lazy. There are swamps, alligators, storms, etc. Why not one of those as a plot device? As others have said, the characters are what gives this book merit, but overall, it's a no.
Karen Russell is a brilliant writer. Original and not cliched in the least. Every good book has to be informative, have a great narrative, strike notes of the human condition to identify with and be entertaining and original. Ms Russell seems much more knowledgable than her 29 years. Her descriptions and turn of phrase are more than I've ever enjoyed in a book. I would not be surprised to see it in the top 5 of the NYT bestseller list before long. It is a very satisfying book.
Truly unique and very enjoyable! Eerie and heartfelt. Would definitely recommend!