From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucys Home for Girls Raised by Wolves comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.
The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Avas mother, the parks indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Avas father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.
Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a familys struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
Chapter One: The Beginning of the End
Our mother performed in starlight. Whose innovation this was I never discovered. Probably it was Chief Bigtrees idea, and it was a good oneto blank the follow spot and let a sharp moon cut across the sky, unchaperoned; to kill the microphone; to leave the stage lights tin eyelids scrolled and give the tourists in the stands a chance to enjoy the darkness of our island; to encourage the whole stadium to gulp air along with Swamplandia!s star performer, the world-famous alligator wrestler Hilola Bigtree. Four times a week, our mother climbed the ladder above the Gator Pit in a green two-piece bathing suit and stood on the edge of the diving board, breathing. If it was windy, her long hair flew around her face, but the rest of her stayed motionless. Nights in the swamp were dark and star-leperedour island was thirty-odd miles off the grid of mainland lightsand although your naked eye could easily find the ball of ...
The elements of Swamplandia!'s world do not sound promising. They sound, admittedly, rather random and outlandish, as cheesy as the Bigtrees' amusement park itself: alligators, a Ouija board, a Depression-era ghost, buzzards by the dozens, a "bird man" who whistles to lure the buzzards away, another amusement park modeled on hell. But if this sounds over the top to you, it doesn't to Ava Bigtree, and the wise earnestness with which she narrates her life will seduce you into listening. If I cited every worthwhile example of Russell’s prose, this review would be exactly as long as the book itself. Her gorgeous phrasing is at once so surprising and so right.
(Reviewed by Amy Reading).
Full Review (1097 words).
Swamplandia! 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, dolphins and alligators, in addition to over 189 species of birds and over 200 species of fish.
Because the mangroves are so dense and the canals ...
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