Sunday, January 29, 2012

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell [Review]

2.5 out of 5 Robots!
Swamplandia! Karen Russell
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release: February 1, 2011
Hardcover: 320 Pages
Publisher: Knopf Publishing
My Copy: Borrowed from Library
Reviewer: Shannon
Buy the Book: Amazon

Shannon's Thoughts:
Oh Swamplandia!  I had such high hopes.  But, at the end, I was so disappointed.  The book starts off well enough.  In the back swamps of Florida, the Bigtree family runs a roadside tourist attraction (the titular Swamplandia).  The main attraction at Swamplandia is the alligator wrestling show starring Hilola Bigtree until she is stricken with cancer and dies.  Without its main star, the tourist no longer come to Swamplandia and the family is on the verge of financial ruin.  This is just the beginning of the book.  After Hilola dies, her husband (The Chief) and three children all try to deal with her passing, to varying degrees of success.  The Chief is in denial about Swamplandia's future.  Kiwi, the eldest son, leaves Swamplandia to work on the mainland at a competing tourist attraction called the World of Darkness.  Ossie, the middle sister, becomes interested in the occult and begins to date ghosts and eventually runs off to elope with one of them.  And lastly, Ava, the youngest sister at 13, decides to become an alligator wrestler and save the show.

The first half of the book is narrated exclusively from Ava's perspective.  It sets up all the background to the main conflict.  The book then splits its narrative between Kiwi on the mainland and Ava at Swamplandia.  After Kiwi leaves, the Chief leaves too for the mainland on a mystery errand.  He leaves behind Ossie and Ava to tend to themselves until his return.  But then Ossie runs off to elope to her ghost boyfriend and Ava strikes out after her.  She is aided by a mysterious man called The Birdman as she travels deep into the swamp to bring back her sister.

Its at this point the story begins to unravel for me.  The first half of the books sets up such an interesting premise and it really grabbed my attention.  But once the family splits up, I found myself alternating between annoyance at the characters' naivety and a terrible sense of foreboding.  The last part of the book deals with a terrible terrible incident.  You could see it coming a ways off like a storm on the horizon, but you are completely incapable of doing anything about it.  There is a sense of dread and unease surrounding the last half of the book, leading up to the incident.  And then...nothing.  The end just comes and the ramifications of the story's events are never really dealt with.  I found it all so depressing and unsatisfying.

I think readers will either really like this book or they won't.  From the other reviews I've read, this seems to be the case anyways.  So, I would say if you were interested in reading it, you should so you can decide on your own how you feel about it.

Other Reviews of Swamplandia:
The Amber Show    Contemporary Lit


  1. It's a shame the story didn't really work out for you. I have seen many mixed reviews of this book, but I'm curious enough to want to check it out for myself!

  2. My library has a copy of this I have been debating checking out, the premise sounds really intriguing, but...I may hold off for now. Thank for the honest review:)

  3. I really think it is a book you either love or hate. And so I encourage anyone who is interested to read it yourself and decide. You may love it!

  4. There was an interview with Karen Russell on The Book Report, She spoke about her book, May give you the Final yay or nay, to add to your reading list... Go to to have a listen to it. I like listening to the show and hearing from the authors what they have to say.



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