Susie's Reviews > Swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
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Sep 18, 12

Read in September, 2012

I wish I could give it two different ratings...one for the beauty of the language, one for the story itself.....I have to give it 3 stars simply for the prose...I found the author's style enchanting as long as Ava was the focus of the story. Her metaphors, admittedly over-generously saturating this tale like swamp water through your sneakers, were quite engaging. I immediately bonded with Ava, Kiwi, and Ossie, but it is a weird story that ends like the author is hurrying to wrap it up to meet some kind of deadline. It is a tale about a dysfunctional, isolated family keeping the family business (a vampy, campy alligator wrestling show) going despite waning interest of tourists. When their mother dies from cancer, the family begins to spiral out from each other in a crazy fashion...the father leaves the family for reasons unknown....grandpa goes into a nursing home...one daughter becomes obsessed with the supernatural, searching naively for a boyfriend from the netherworld...the son leaves the island in hopes of saving the family and business from financial ruin,...and the youngest daughter is seduced by a stranger into leaving the island 'to search for her lost sister.' In a sense, the three are searching for something that will give their life meaning and help them balance the miserableness of their decaying family life against the need for and love of it. What Russell ends up giving us is a story that, even in its resolution, feels unresolved, and as unnatural as a red alligator. It's one of those books that makes you think, "I could have written a better ending than this." Much like other reviewers, I keep thinking about this book, looking for some larger reason to this story, as if the author was trying to share some opinion about life with the reader. In the end, I don't think I will read this book again any time soon, if ever, but I love the beauty of most of the narrative and wish I had my own copy (I borrowed a library copy) just so I could highlight some of Russell's grand descriptions, as well as many of the more intimate, quirky ones; to reread just those highlights, to remind me as a writer how powerful and beautiful language can be.
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