Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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Cannonball Read IV: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

By ElLCoolJ | Book Reviews | November 14, 2012 | Comments ()


So it has been many many many months since I wrote a review, but I have been busy reading. I kept track of the books that I read and am now at a place where I can sit down and tell you what I thought about them. (Ah the joys of being a teacher with my summers off!)

I'll start with Swamplandia!, a romp through the supernatural, or is it the real world? The story follows the three children of Chief Bigtree, the proprietor of Swamplandia, a has-been alligator wrestling tourist attraction. Ava, the youngest is the obvious protagonist. She has taken it upon herself to replace her deceased mother as the headliner of the show. Ava fancies herself as the future of Swamplandia, and practices her routines in the near abandoned park. Ossie, the middle sister, plunges herself in the world of the occult and dates ghosts. Kiwi, the eldest brother, leaves to work at "The World Of Darkness", a rival theme park based on Hell. The father, Chief Bigtree, splits to the mainland in search of something to save the park, but has no real plan.

The book fluctuates between the real world and delving into the fantasy world. At times it is hard to tell what is real and what is fantastical, but that is the joy of the book, as the characters skirt the fine line of their psyche. The difference in how a 13 year old girl, Ava, and the 18 year old boy, Kiwi, deal with the collapse of the park and their impending future is stark. They both have a sense of self righteouness with a mission of goodness. Their well intentions remind me a bit of Russell Banks characters, but with more humor and levity.

The dual journeys of Ava and Kiwi spiral on the verge of out of their control, but they both manage to find their own path towards the salvation of the park. They both have the, unrealistic, end goal of a return to earlier and happier days. The journey is not really about their destination, but rather them both realizing how their world works.

All in all it was an enjoyable ride and the book definitely took some unexpected turns. Fun characters and clever writing kept me hooked all the way through the story.

Worth a paperback or library read.

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of ElLCoolJ’s reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • pyrajane

    I bought this book forever ago and haven't gotten to it yet. However "Kiwi, the eldest brother, leaves to work at “The World Of Darkness”, a rival theme park based on Hell." has convinced me to find the thing and get reading.

  • dizzylucy

    I read this a while back, and mostly what I remember of it is how drastically it veered off from what it started out being.

  • baxlala

    So excited to see this review, as I just picked up this book from a giant used booksale. I really knew nothing about it, other than I liked the title and I thought I'd heard of it before. Can't wait to read this one now!

  • I'm reading this right now-it's interesting. I'm not completely invested yet, but I blame that on Harry Dresden.

  • The first third of this book captured me with it's fantastic melancholy. When it diverted from that into dark territory (can't help it, I'm a Mom so those sorts of plotlines don't sit well with me) I felt it lost it's way. Really well written for sure though, with lots of thought provoking material and characters. But for me the first half was a place I want to go, the second too sad to warrant a visit.

  • Chef Tournel

    Oh, I have to disagree. The book is (among other things) about the loss of innocence for Ava, and the "darkness" is implied but kinda sits behind the surface for the majority of the book. But it didn't feel out of place or anything less than a logical, if admittedly uncomfortable step in the narrative. I didn't think she (the writer) would go there, and kinda must respect that she did.

  • Scootsa1000

    I'm right with you. The book started out charming and quirky, but the mom in me couldn't deal with the last third of the story.

  • Wednesday

    I agree. I disconnected from it at the end. The characters were interesting and felt based in reality -- an interesting reality -- but the ending just veered off into "Cape Fear" territory and felt almost like an unrelated book.

  • comfy

    Ditto for me. The writing was wonderful and it will propel you forward. But I couldn't help but wonder if the plot would have been better if it had been developed by a more mature writer (like Alice Hoffman).

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