- Series: Vintage Contemporaries
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (July 26, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307276681
- ISBN-13: 978-0307276681
- ASIN: 0307276686
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 709 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – July 26, 2011
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“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
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.
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Swamplandia! is an amusement park on an island, which is part of the Florida Everglades. The park features, among other things, alligator wrestling, and the main wrestler is a woman, Hilola Bigtree, who is struck with cancer. Her husband, the Chief, operates the place, and their three children help out. With the death of Hilola Bigtree, which occurs on page eight, her family must cope, but what happens, instead?
Without their star attraction, the business begins to fail. The Chief decamps, and the children aren’t even sure where, on the mainland, he has landed. Teenage Kiwi, the only son, also leaves. He realizes he must send money home to keep the park afloat and takes a job at a competing park called World of Darkness. The elder daughter, Ossie, exits with an entity she believes is a ghost, and for a time, the reader might be fooled into thinking she actually does. Ava, the young narrator of most of the novel (her chapters are the only ones written in first-person), is left to fend for herself, and she does a most unwise thing: trusts a male adult who is not a member of her family, not even someone she knows tangentially, to help her locate her sister. To tell any more is to spoil your read.
I can say, however, that in the same manner in which I envy someone’s great photograph, I wish I’d written a book like this. At first, it fools you into thinking it’s sort of a comic romp, but then these people Russell has created are too smart for that alone. Though home schooled (by way of Florida state curriculum), all three children have great vocabularies, use their common sense to help them out of the trouble that even smart kids can get into. They pay attention (to some things, anyway). They become acquainted with the unjust and tragic history of the Seminole Indians, which perhaps keeps them from feeling as sorry for themselves as they might. Russell’s metaphors are apt, growing naturally out of this swampy environment. Here, little Ava compares alligators to her missing sister:
“Even if she’d [Ossie] gotten away from him [her ghost fiancé] the prognostications were grim—alligators with unusual pigmentation can’t camouflage themselves in the dust-and-olive palette of the swamp. Their skin is spotlit for predators. That’s why you don’t see albino Seths [Ava’s pet name for alligators] in the wild. Once an alligator reaches a size of four feet its only real predator is man” (338).
Ava’s mind is using the image of alligators to speak the unspeakable: that her sister has probably disappeared with a ghost, who has the unlikely name of Louis Thanksgiving. Yet Ava faces her own trials (this is NOT a Young Adult novel), and in the end, by what seems a great coincidence which the author has earned the right to employ, the family is united, or reconstituted. At any rate, Russell, who has also published fiction in The New Yorker, is sure to garner our attention for a long time if she can create other exciting narratives like Swamplandia!
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.