February 20, 2012

Book Review: Swamplandia!

As part of the Apocolist (down there at the bottom), I'm trying to read at least 20 books this year.

1. Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton
2. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt

#3. Swamplandia! - Karen Russell

(Slight spoilers ahead.)

I don't remember why I picked this book but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because I enjoy sudden! exclamation! points! in my book titles. I mean who doesn't?

I didn't know what to expect with this. I kept hearing about how Karen Russell was a young writer and had been given pretty much every age-based writing award there is so I guess I was rooting for the home team. Also I just looked up her birthday and she's only four years older than me. I officially have until I'm 31 to do something with my life. Wait. No. 30, because this was published last year. Oh man I am so screwed.

ANYWAY. My crippling fear of amounting to nothing aside (haha! HA! omg), I jumped into the book but was at first held up by the prose and style. I like creative prose, but man, just call a car a car. Basically it's the difference between "I walked down the path" and "I walked down the stickway." I got into the flow of it eventually though and the story progressed it became seemingly less hindered by the words.

A family has a 'gator wrestling themed park in the Florida swamp. After the death of the mother, who was also the headlining act, things start to crumble. Rifts open between the surviving family members: Ava (the narrator and wrestling enthusiast), her father (The Chief), her sister (Osceola) and a brother (Kiwi).

Each member of the family embarks on a separate kind of mission after the mother's passing. Osceola is desperate to commune with the dead through a Ouija board. This brought back memories of my own teenage fascination with the occult and all of the drama and the games she plays in her head rang true. Kiwi desires a higher education and a life on the mainland. Ava wants to save the park, as does her father, but they go about it in very different ways.


The Bird Man is introduced in the rising action and I found myself misjudging him, almost in the same way that Ava does. This was a fascinating reaction in myself and one that I hope Russell intended. I got so entrenched in the romance of the mystery that I forgot what very real dangers could lurk at the edges. I yearned for an adventure, as Ava did, and ignored all caution along with her. Perhaps it's that I'm just as naive as she is. In any case, I was surprised and angered by what he brought into her life.


I liked it. The setting is unique and intriguing and the story is well paced - I found myself reading faster to find out what happened in the end. It's not life changing, but it's entertaining and emotional: I felt foggy and then suddenly, extremely clear, like I'd been dreaming all along and should have known it. A reaction in myself as dynamic as that deserves at least 3 stars.

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