In the virtuoso opening pages of Swamplandia!
, in which Ava remembers her mother's famous alligator-wrestling act, Karen Russell finds five different ways to describe the spotlight that Ava's father trains on his wife as she swims across the alligator pit. First, it is the "huge unseeing eye of the follow spot" that "twisted through the palm fronds until it found Hilola." Then, it casts "a light like a rime of ice onto the murk, and Mom swam inside this circle across the entire length of the lake." The audience would scream when an alligator swam into the spotlight alongside her, "a plump and switching tail cutting suddenly into its margarine wavelengths," and "now and then a pair of coal-red eyes snagged at the white net of the spotlight as the Chief rolled it over the Pit," but Hilola would keep swimming, "brushing at the spotlight's perimeter as if she were testing the gate...
Beyond the Book
so successfully embeds itself in the reader's mind because of Karen Russell's thick and knowledgeable descriptions of The Ten Thousand Islands, which do not seem to figure into many other literary works.
The region is a chain of hundreds of mangrove islets, tall sawgrass marsh, and brackish water where salt and fresh water mix, located off the southwest coast of Florida, roughly between the cities of Naples and Flamingo. They comprise the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge, and part of the Everglades National Park. They are home to manatees, loggerhead sea turtles,...