Johnny's Reviews > Swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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's review
Feb 12, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: new-yorker-20-under-40, female-protagonist, adolescent-protagonist, ghosts, fiction, family, pulitzer-finalist
Read from July 14 to August 15, 2011

This started out so incredibly promising: the initial narrator is Ava, the pre-adolescent youngest daughter of three in a family that lives deep in the Florida swamplands and runs a pseudo circus show for gullible tourists. Early on, Ava's mother dies of cancer--ironic since she regularly swims with and wrestles alligators--and the pain and lack of understanding in this young character over the loss is realistically palpable and touching. The family quickly devolves after the death, and unfortunately so does Russell's novel. When Ava's sister Ossie begins dating ghosts and allegedly loses her maidenhood to these spectral visitors, I wasn't sure how seriously I was supposed to be taking this story that up until that point captured the verisimilitude of loss and loneliness exquisitely. Later, the narration splits into alternating chapters narrated by Ava and her search for her sister after the latter elopes with a dead suitor and those with an inconsistent third person narration detailing their older brother's adventures on the mainland as he attempts to save the family from financial ruin. The stories never truly converge, and when Ava joins up with a creepy "Bird Man" (a character she doesn't recognize as creepy until it is far too late) to journey to the underworld, there is little to connect these disparate characters and their oddly plotted journeys. Russell has a great style, but I'm anxious to read some of her shorter pieces since the trappings of the novel, particularly the sustained development of plot and character, are far too elusive for her to capture here.
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Melissa I completely agree. I gave an extra star because I was so enamored with the writing style in the beginning of the book. It is so lush and captivating. The narrative starts going downhill in the middle of the novel. I will definitely read more from Karen Russell.

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