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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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's review
Jun 24, 2011

it was ok
Read from February 23 to March 04, 2011

My expectations were rings-of-Saturn high for “Swamplandia!” after finishing Karen Russell’s “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” However, nothing but suffering and gnashing of teeth can come from high expectations, and I was bummed beyond bummed with “Swamplandia!” Where I found “St. Lucy’s” to be fresh and weird, I thought “Swamplandia!” was just a lengthier re-hash of the short story with all kinds of sad “bonuses.”

“Swampandia!” follows alligator-wrestling sisters Ava and Ossie after their mother dies, and the rest of their family abandons them. It also includes the perspective of their brother Kiwi, as he runs off to work at a Swamplandia! theme park rival. Set in a mythic Florida filled with ghosts and bird men, it sounds like the perfect recipe of nonsense and fairy tale. Unfortunately, this recipe gave me the kind of food poisoning that makes me want to sue the restaurant. Karen Russell replaced the whimsy with actual terrible real-life things that happen to the siblings, like rape, loss of family, dead end jobs, and motel rooms. It is such an unpleasant contrast to the magical realism, it made me sad. Though the content of her short stories were dark, I felt like they were more darkly funny and tapered with a tinge of hopefulness. “Swamplandia!” is just dark-dark goose.

If her other stories were any indication, I felt like Russell has a big enough imagination to create a completely unique novel without having to borrow from her most promising short story. I feel like she really said everything that needed to be said with the original “Swamplandia!” short, and I wish I didn’t know that things took a turn for the awful for Ava and Kiwi.

I’ll definitely pick up another work by Karen Russell, but here’s to hoping it’s another short story collection. I think she is a short story superstar; her full-length novel felt like a B-celebrity’s tuneless singing career. Cruel, I know.

-EZ Read Staffer Jenifer

Watch the recorded review and meet Jenifer and Amelia here: http://vimeo.com/21037120
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Comments (showing 1-2)

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Megan Interesting...I've been hearing so much good about this book and it just sounds crazy to me. In a bad, overdone way, not in a good way. I'm curious why you gave it two stars because it seemed like it was trying too hard from what I read of it...tell me more! :)

Michelle Until I read your review, I didn't realize that Russell also wrote SLCfGRbW. I've wanted to read that one for a while as well.

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