“Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell

A fixture on many of last year’s Best-of lists, Swamplandia! was going to get read sooner or later. But when it was picked by both Books and Bars and The Mornings News, well, that just made it jump the queue.

Swamplandia! is a Florida novelty park owned by the Bigtree family. The park’s star is the mother, Hilola, who swims with and wrestles alligators. When she dies, the rest of the family falls apart in various and interesting ways. The chapters alternate between 1st person by thirteen-year-old Ava, the youngest daughter, and 3rd person about Kiwi, the seventeen-year-old son. A large section in the middle of the book had me anxious for a long time to see what would happen. It took some strength of will to accede to the intervening alternating chapters, and not to groan when chapters ended but the suspense was sustained. I was impressed with that continuity of tension, as well as the fully engaging characters. I also appreciated that Russell left many interesting questions open for the reader to decide.

Swamplandia! goes up against Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table in round 1 of The Morning News Tournament of Books, to be judged by Haven Kimmel. Now I’m on to The Tiger’s Wife, which my friend Amy lent me. I’m going to try not to go crazy about the Tournament of Books this year, but I really enjoyed The Sisters Brothers and Swamplandia!.

2 Responses to ““Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell”

  1. Amy Says:

    Heh. Once again, we diverge slightly in opinions. I liked the first half of the book, but felt it kind of spun out of control in the second half, and the ending felt very abrupt to me.

  2. Kate Says:

    Compared to last year, I am enjoying the books this year much more. Of course, I’ve already read more than half of them, and have given up on getting through IQ84 before the TOB, but generally, I’m a fan of this year’s choices.

    I loved Swamplandia!, but the ending area made me so very sad.

    I just finished Jesamyn Ward’s book. WOW. Awesome, but also? Katrina.