Tina Hayes's Reviews > Swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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's review
Mar 27, 11

did not like it
bookshelves: vine
Read from March 23 to 27, 2011

Karen Russell's "Swamplandia!" is the most disappointing novel I have read in a very long time. If you've read the blurb, you know about 95% of the story, and the rest isn't really interesting enough to waste time wading through. I would rather be eaten by a gator than have to struggle through this story again.

The blurb sets you up for a literary adventure, but it isn't. The Bigtrees own a theme park focused on wrestling alligators. The three children, ages 13 to 17, lose their mother to cancer, then struggle to keep their business afloat. Ava is the youngest, and expects to fill her mother's shoes as the main attraction, the gator wrestler. Older sister Ossie is a self-proclaimed medium who dates dead guys, and big brother Kiwi gets fed up with things and sets off on his own. Chief Bigtree takes off on business and leaves his daughters to fend for themselves, and you can guess things don't go well. That was the blurb and the only thing that happens for the first half of the book, before the Chief leaves. Most of that stuff actually happens before the story even starts, and the first five or six chapters are a rehashing of those depressing events, no forward movement of the story, only characters wallowing in grief. It was a struggle to turn the page, as the book could definitely cure insomnia.

I wonder if the author had originally planned this as a collection of swamp themed short stories, because there are a couple of chapters and long sections that have NOTHING to do with said story. This is supposed to be literary fiction, but there is really NO CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT to qualify it as such. That would leave plot, but that doesn't pan out either, because there isn't one, since the characters just ramble along. Parts of the story focus on Kiwi (while Ossie's actions would have been more exciting) others on Ava, who is the main character. The parts concerning alligators and swamplife were interesting and believeable, unlike the character's actions in the last third. A criminal act takes place, something the reader will expect, no surprise, but it is not written realistically, nor the events that happen thereafter. The end of this novel is not good at all, as nearly nothing is resolved.

It is evident, however, that Karen Russell is a talented writer, as her prose is elegant and her descriptions are often beautiful and thought provoking. Still, the novel lacks focus and cohesiveness. An elegantly worded description of feces still comes out smelling like poo.

I was deeply disappointed in this novel.
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