271 of 295 people found the following review helpful
Original, but uneven,
This review is from: Swamplandia! (Hardcover)
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I had high expectations of this novel based on the buzz; I'm a lover of southern gothic and thought this would be right up my alley. It's the story of the Bigtree family, a "tribe" who runs the alligator-wrestling park Swamplandia! in an island chain off of Florida. Having the island to themselves except for the tourists, the Bigtrees inhabit a very different sort of world; they have a museum filled with family artifacts, children who are homeschooled and rarely set foot on the "mainland," and a mother who wrestles alligators. Things hum along nicely until their mother, Hilola Bigtree, succumbs to cancer, throwing the entire family into a tailspin.
After Hilola's death, Ava, the youngest, narrates the downward spiral of her family: oldest brother Kiwi goes to work at a rival theme park in a desperate attempt to alleviate the family's financial distress; middle sister Osceola discovers a book of spells and starts dating ghosts, and their father, Chief Bigtree, disappears to the mainland. Ava becomes determined to do something to save her family and especially her sister, who disappears on a journey to the Underworld to marry her ghost boyfriend. Ava ventures after her, into a journey that is more fraught with danger than she could have imagined. This journey is fraught with tension but it takes a sudden dark, disturbing turn that, without giving away any spoilers, felt like it had broken away from the original spirit of the book. The transition from magical realism to harsh, ugly reality was just too sudden to me.
The writing is very descriptive and quite lovely, but at times it almost feels like too much--or perhaps just feels misplaced, as sometimes it felt like you had to wade through a great deal of description to get to the plot. The switching of chapters between Ava and Kiwi's perspective also felt a bit jarring at times; it felt you'd just gotten into one storyline when you were yanked back into another. The novel itself has a very original feel while also recalling some other great works of literature; Ava's character is sometimes reminiscent of Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird." Unfortunately while there were moments I couldn't put the book down, there were also moments I wanted to walk away from it forever, which made for a disjointed reading experience. Overall this scores major points for originality, but the originality is compromised by the uneven character and pace of the novel. It was worth the read, but didn't quite live up to the hype for me.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 29, 2011 9:45:55 AM PDT
This review closely mirrors my own feelings about the book, although I'm still undecided about whether it was worth the read or not.
Posted on Apr 7, 2011 7:21:50 AM PDT
Joseph E. Henley says:
you summed it up for me too!
Posted on May 9, 2011 10:48:11 AM PDT
Kimberly Y. says:
"Unfortunately while there were moments I couldn't put the book down, there were also moments I wanted to walk away from it forever, which made for a disjointed reading experience."
Posted on May 14, 2011 1:23:22 PM PDT
We read this for my book club and I would say that this review nailed it!
Posted on Sep 8, 2011 1:50:33 PM PDT
USA Student says:
Good review. I agree.
Posted on Feb 8, 2012 4:43:55 PM PST
I agee with the above review. I'm about 1/4 th of the way into the book and am having a difficult time reading it. I pick it up, read a few pages, and put it down. Too disjointed for me!
Posted on Mar 1, 2012 10:34:29 PM PST
Kelly Damian says:
This is an accurate review. The writing is interesting and clever, but it lacks the spine of a solid plot. Totally agree with the "dark, disturbing turn". After page 90 I started flipping through and found that part and I decided that I just don't want to keep reading the book.
Posted on Jun 29, 2012 7:53:26 AM PDT
I also read Swamplandia with great expectations and to me your review is "spot" on. The dark moment you spoke about was also a shock for me and nothing in the story prepared you for it. I would love to speak with author to see what was the purpose of turning the story in that direction.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 25, 2013 6:21:38 AM PST
Elizabeth C. Angelone says:
Agree with this comment but would venture a guess as to why he author pulled the story in THAT direction..........she wanted to wake us up in case we were wallowing in the good fantasy fiction she
had created. She woke us up, but we weren't too happy about it. Too much like real life for enjoyment. That was a tongue-in-cheek assessment.........I really enjoyed her writing for the most part and feel she
will be presenting us with more and better stories in the future.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2013 8:37:17 AM PDT
Rina Bass says:
Me too. I am half way through it and am struggling to keep going.