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This topic is about Swamplandia!
Group Reads: Post-1980 > Swamplandia, Final Impressions, May 2014

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message 1: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
What did you think? Spoilers welcome. Here's the topic to post links to your reviews, should you write one.


William | 39 comments I was particularly fascinated with all the yonic symbols, especially the gator, throughout the book and the Inferno theme park. There is also a short story version in her first collection of short stories.

Thing Two (thingtwo) | 82 comments Here's my review from last spring:


William | 39 comments An incredible fairy tale of a story, with imaginative turns on nearly every page. Told both in first person and third person, sometimes the leaps between paragraphs are dizzying. The voice is original as far as I can tell, maybe it reminds me of a book called Geek Love and some of Angela Carter. I'm not sure what it all means, but it was a pleasure to read. The epigraph at the beginning says it all. Be prepared for a four hundred page roller coaster ride.

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 178 comments In my review from September 2011, I ruminate on things I liked and things I didn't. May contain spoilers for the short story "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," but only in the most general sense.

I love how Russell writes the swamp!

message 6: by Larry (last edited May 09, 2014 10:43AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Larry Bassett | 0 comments William wrote: "I'm not sure what it all means, but it was a pleasure to read."

Your posts require me to do some delving, William, and I wonder if that is your intention? "Yonic" for example. I gather you like reading things that leave you puzzled and uncertain? I don't.

I find it frustrating when I cannot figure something out. I will often abandon an idea that I cannot comprehend after giving it a go. And it may be that I will begin to abandon books for the same reason although my longtime habit has been to insist on finishing a book I start.

Since we are also reading Faulkner this month, he is an example that comes easily to mind! I have some limitations of intelligence and recollection that seem to be getting worse as I age. I found just enough sentences and paragraphs to love about Swamplandia! that I was frustrated by what I could vaguely see going over my head!

I hope there will be some discussion of the rape of Ava. And I hope it will be more direct than yonic! Let me start with a question: Is this feminist literature? To quote William: "I'm not sure..."

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 178 comments What makes literature feminist? I don't think the point is the role of women. Ava could just have easily been a male child who was taken advantage of by someone with more power. The lack of parents, also not really a feminist concept.

Larry Bassett | 0 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "What makes literature feminist?"

I think it has something to do with the amount of control a woman character has over her life and how she asserts that control. Is a female protagonist an object or controlling her destiny? What kind of treatment does she demand and accept from others? Can our very young female protagonists be feminists or advocates for themselves? Was the mother a strong woman in a feminist sense and how did she raise her daughters? What happens to male characters who display sexist or dominating behavior?

I think feminist literature can be identified by what characteristics the author establishes for both males and females in the book. The rape scene was powerful for me because an effort was made to convey the experience from the point of view of a child. Male sexual awakening is also dealt with from the POV of a young male.

Because of the choices the author made in her construction of the story, I do not think this is feminist literature. If I had to label this story, I would call it "coming of age" as it deals with three young siblings within the same world and social structure who each made a very different choice. It would be interesting to follow each of their lives after their reunion and to see the new family dynamics with their father.

message 9: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (last edited May 09, 2014 06:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Larry wrote: "William wrote: "I'm not sure what it all means, but it was a pleasure to read."

Your posts require me to do some delving, William, and I wonder if that is your intention? "Yonic" for example. I ga..."

Larry, let's keep the discussion courteous. Perhaps you don't recognize the barbs your posts appear to carry. However the tone of some of your efforts to spark discussion are more akin to throwing a large fire cracker into the room.

In response to your hope someone will discuss the rape of Ava, here goes. I was appalled by it. I was especially irritated that Ava was left to deal with the situation alone. There is no resolution. There is no consequence for the Bird Man. It is particularly poignant that Ava wonders if she might have wanted the act to occur. Of course that is not uncommon for children who have no adequate support to which they might report what happened to them.

For me the over arching theme of the novel is loss, beginning with the mother's death. That Russell sets these losses in an aura of magical realism, interspersed with quirky comic relief supplied by naive Kiwi, well, that's good writing. Russell drew me in. However, Ava's rape repulsed me. I don't see a happy ending for the Bigtree family, even after being reunited with the landlocked Chief.


William | 39 comments Mike wrote: "Larry wrote: "William wrote: "I'm not sure what it all means, but it was a pleasure to read."

Your posts require me to do some delving, William, and I wonder if that is your intention? "Yonic" for..."

Personally, Mike, I did not take any offense from Larry's comments. Maybe I'm not deep enough to appreciate those "barbs" you were talking about. After thirty years of teaching high school English, I can assure you I have heard worse from my students.

Larry Bassett | 0 comments William, thanks for your comment. I actually love posts that make me think (delve) and my comment really had more to do with the fact that you made me dive deeper to discover the meaning of yonic. And once - with the help of Google - I found the meaning, I observed this Pulitzer candidate in a new light. (Not that I know what to make of it in that light, I assure you!) This is not common territory for this group. Thank you for opening the door a crack.

message 12: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 1 star

Laura | 1926 comments Mod
It all makes sense now, an English teacher! No wonder you are so well versed in literature. I'm listening to Lord of the Flies. I may have questions after finishing. :)

Thing Two (thingtwo) | 82 comments Larry wrote: "William, thanks for your comment. I actually love posts that make me think (delve) and my comment really had more to do with the fact that you made me dive deeper to discover the meaning of yonic. ..."

... and I've learned a new word. Thanks everyone! :)

Larry Bassett | 0 comments Here is my two star review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

William's comment, "Be prepared for a four hundred page roller coaster ride," was true for me I was back and forth between liking and not liking this book as I read it. Since I often write my reviews "on the go," you can see my variety of takes.

The rape scene was an overall negative for me but with the symbolism of female genitalia that William points out, I do wonder what this book would mean if you focused on the sexual aspects of which there are plenty.

Meran | 126 comments still reading…. other things got in the way :D

hm. only 2 stars? I'll have to read that. I know mine will be more than that.

message 16: by Casey (last edited May 12, 2014 02:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Casey (the_bolshevixen) | 8 comments Here is my five star review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Call me a sucker for American stabs at magical realism...

Not included in the review, which others on this thread have mentioned, was my disdain for seemingly inevitable rape scene. Symbolically, it was significant, as the rape sublimated Ava herself and (I think...) functioned as a metaphor for the historical rape of the Florida wetlands, by settlers, governmental projects etc. The swamp itself is a coded female space that has been harshly abused historically and socially, and instances of this float ethereally around the novel. However, I was left bothered by the fact that Ava was left to process this on her lonesome, especially as she felt complicit in the act herself. But perhaps this POV of complicit guilt was Russell's intention, as the Bigtree family was also part of a system that commercialized the natural environs.

Or I have read far too much into this. Any thoughts?

Larry Bassett | 0 comments Casey wrote: "But perhaps this POV of complicit guilt was Russell's intention, as the Bigtree family was also part of a system that commercialized the natural environs."

I think this is an important observation and fits in with Mike's observation of the "over arching theme of loss" in the novel. The Bigtree family is a part of the rape of the native environment and society of the Everglades.

message 18: by Jason (last edited May 19, 2014 05:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason (desiderio) | 38 comments So, I was excited to see -Swamplandia!- as a choice for May because I'd gotten through maybe 70 pages and set it to the side for months and months and mon...ok maybe even a year ago...so I knew this would make me get to it and finish it. Since that time I had read "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" and several other stories from St. Lucy's as well as most all of the stories from -Vampires in the Lemon Grove-(which honestly I think is Russell's best work overall) and the group's choice was the last straw...

I wasn't pulled in in the beginning...it seemed sort of clunky and thrown together...but then again that may have been intentional since the Bigtrees are dysfunctional to the nth degree. I plowed through from where I picked up and fell hook, line, and sinker for all the magical realism...to the point that I was almost shocked with Ava was raped. It was disgusting, cold, and harsh. Ava's reactions in my mind were poignant but disturbing which was the point. I think that Russell handled this excellently. Kiwi has grown throughout the novel: he is becoming a man and founding an identity, Ossie has returned from the "underworld" without her ghost-groom but perhaps is a bit more stable, but we as the reader know that Ava is forever changed. Her innocence is gone and although I think the ending works we are still left wondering how Ava will cope. Will her family pull together? Will she reveal what happened? How will she process the trauma? I think it was all intentional on Russell's part to leave us with all these questions. As fantastical and magical as it may be, the real haunting of Swamplandia! is the splintering impact a mother's death has on a family and the harsh reality her children suffer on their own. A quite good read and a fantastic writer!

message 19: by Ron (new)

Ron (mrkurtz2) | 40 comments Karen Russell is a colorful writer. She populates her descriptions of the Swamp and the characters who delve between the spiritual world and the worlds of make believe and ghosts. The colors of the rainbow are mixed with shades and tints or tones or hues. In her descriptions Karen uses at least fifty distinct colors which she uses to color herscenes. In addition to all of the colors she uses unique adjectives and adverbs that shade the effects she is trying to impart. “Red-bellied turtles and lachrymose (tearful, melancholy) morning glories”. The prose is actually well written and there is a nice story line of the family Bigtree trying to save Swamplandia island from becoming part of the swamp which sits around them. The main fault that I see is Osceola making the trip through the swamp where The Bird Man and Ava follow having several obstacles that the two barely make headway. How was Osceola able to do this by herself. It is unreasonable that she could make this trip alone. For me it darkens the plot. I like Ava and Kiwi. Their characters are well defined --- they are a tween and a teen growing up on fast time and they use their swamp smarts to hold their own in a world rising up against them. The remaining characters are cartoon cardboards. The Underworld and the World of Darkness are two themes from the 1950’s. I rate this book two stars.

message 20: by Deborah (last edited Jun 19, 2014 12:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Deborah | 53 comments It all come down to the rape. The thing about it is that from the moment she encounters Birdman it's inevitable. And we sense it's coming. Russell cruelly pretends there will be an out. That, I thought was genius. And after the worst happens, after the moment she ties us in contortions to avoid, she stops taunting us with false hope and shows us life goes on.

(Sorry. Its ugly when I post from my phone.)

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