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Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – July 26, 2011
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"The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, The Lying Game. Pre-order today
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Guest Reviewer: Carl Hiaasen
*Starred Review* Russell’s lavishly imagined and spectacularly crafted first novel sprang from a story in her highly praised collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006). Swamplandia! is a shabby tourist attraction deep in the Everglades, owned by the Bigtree clan of alligator wrestlers. When Hilola, their star performer, dies, her husband and children lose their moorings, and Swamplandia! itself is endangered as audiences dwindle. The Chief leaves. Brother Kiwi, 17, sneaks off to work at the World of Darkness, a new mainland amusement park featuring the “rings of hell.” Otherworldly sister Osceola, 16, vanishes after falling in love with the ghost of a young man who died while working for the ill-fated Dredge and Fill Campaign in the 1930s. It’s up to Ava, 13, to find her sister, and her odyssey to the Underworld is mythic, spellbinding, and terrifying. Russell’s powers reside in her profound knowledge of the great imperiled swamp, from its alligators and insects, floating orchids and invasive “strangler” melaleuca trees to the tragic history of its massacred indigenous people and wildlife. Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell’s archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
“How would you describe the plot of this book? Predictable, Some Twists, Full of Surprises.”
“Which of these words best describes the mood?”
As a lifetime member of The Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, I find Amazon’s review process not only tedious, but insulting to readers. And insulting to all Amazon customers.
I hadn’t read Karen Russell before, and Swamplandia! sounded, from the PR piece, like a Tom Robbins romp into marvelous absurdism.
I was partially right. Tom Robbins is in there, but so is Annie Proulx, Richard Brautigan, Thomas Pynchon, and even Joseph Conrad. But mostly…Karen Russell.
Amazon, a suggestion: please give us fractions of a point with which to review a book. I give Swamplandia! a solid 4.9 out of 5.0.
Minor: the pace dribbled after Kiwi left the island. His character was not adequately well-ensconced enough at that time for us to care about him for his quotidian days to matter. These early chapters saw Kiwi from afar; little emotional connection. Deduct 0.05. Trust me, Kiwi’s character grew admirably. It was just an unnecessarily tedious process.
Deduct another 0.05. Russell’s metaphoric presentation seems over-frequently to be hard-line yin/yang. Dark/Light. Not only do her overall themes in Swamplandia! follow this dichotomy, but even her in-sentence analogies do, too. Not off-putting; just seemingly obvious once you recognize it.
Net result: I will purchase everything and anything (and have) that Karen Russell writes. She is a prodigious talent. She missed the Pulitzer as runner-up with Swamplandia!, but she WILL win it eventually, I guarantee.
Most of the story is told in first person, by thirteen-year-old Ava. Some chapters are told in third person from brother Kiwi’s point of view. We never see older sister Ossie’s perspective. She is viewed at a distance through the other characters. These kids have had a most unusual upbringing in a family of alligator wrestlers on a tiny private island. They are loosely home schooled. Their only exposure to mainlanders has been those who arrive by the boatloads to the family’s theme park, Swamplandia! The star attraction is the mother’s dive into a pit of alligators. When Mom dies of cancer their world breaks apart, piece by piece. Ossie communes with ghosts and receives messages from the spirit world through her Ouija Board. She falls in love a ghost and they become engaged. It’s never clear whether there really are ghosts, or if Ossie has gone off the deep end. I suspect the latter. With their theme park failing, the father leaves to work on the mainland. Kiwi eventually leaves too, and finds a job at a competing theme park called the World of Darkness. Ossie elopes with her ghost. This leaves Ava completely alone in the deserted alligator park. She is approached by an odd character known as the Bird Man, who says Ava’s father owes him money. He discovers Ava is alone when she tells him how her sister has run off with a ghost. Bird Man leads Ava on a quest for the Underworld to find her Ossie, “before it’s too late.”
Each of the three children comes of age in their own way, separated from the others. The book is filled with clever symbolism, and I’m sure there are many symbols I did not catch.
Not everyone in my book club loved this book as much as I did. We were split 50/50 among those who loved and those who disliked it. So I can’t really say for sure who I’d recommend it to. But I will say, dare to give this book a chance. If you love it, you have found a brilliant tale that will overwhelm your imagination and stay with you for all time.