planetkimi's Reviews > Swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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Jan 15, 12

bookshelves: tournament-of-books-2012, fiction
Read in January, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I read this book as part of the 2012 Tournament of Books.

I read the first chapter of Swamplandia online months ago, in the NYT Book Review, I believe. I was charmed, and added the book to my "to-read" list.

While reading the actual book beyond the first chapter, the charm wore off for me and I realized that I was reading it because it's like the proverbial train wreck - the characters were victims of a disaster and I couldn't look away. Ava, Ossie, and Kiwi are teenagers who grow up on an island that is gator wrestling theme park run by their parents. The park goes bankrupt after their mother dies and a new theme park pops up on the mainland. Their island is only accessible by ferry, and until their theme park starts to decline, they've never interacted with "the real world" beyond their island.

The engine that kept my curiosity going was Ossie and her ghosts. The situation is presented so mysteriously from Ava's inconsistent (doubting, then believing) viewpoint, and I found myself thinking "OK, I'm not putting this book down until I find out if there really are ghosts!"

Ossie's ghost stories evolved into Ava's adventures with the Bird Man in the swamp, which were far creepier than the ghosts. Creepy, creepy, creepy! *shudder*

Admittedly, most of my dislike of the book has to do with its uncomfortable story, but I have two critiques of a more technical nature.

I was a bit put off by the addition of a second point of view halfway through the book. Most of the book is first person with Ava narrating. Then the story branches off into a third person PoV focused on Kiwi. These two divergent PoVs are never reconciled. (There's no frame that captures Ava's story as a part of a third person PoV, or there's no bridge in Ava's narration that explains "When Kiwi and I talked about this years later he told me he felt ..." So what's the perspective that binds the two PoVs together? It became more like two separate stories interlaced.)

My other technical complaint is that the ending seemed contrived. It just doesn't seem likely that everyone would find each other again all on the same day. Really?! It was like trying to plant one shiny, happy thing into the dark morass that the story had become.

***

After thinking about the book a bit more overnight, I think that my biggest disappointment with it is that it didn't turn out to be the zany, plucky, magical-realistic book that I expected it to be. In a lot of ways, it was actually overly realistic.
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