All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

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Happy reading!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! opens with Hilola Bigtree’s daring high dive into the “Gator Pit,” the star attraction at Swamplandia!, the island sideshow for which the book is named. Travelers to the Sunshine State might recall the attractions that used to dot highways designed to lure tourists to see alligator exhibits or purchase counterfeit Native American tomahawks and moccasins. The Bigtree’s island park was the quintessential attraction of its time, with a museum of Bigtree memorabilia, an alligator wrestling event, and of course, Hilola’s thrilling dive and swim through a holding pool of live alligators. Reclaimed from swampland fraudulently sold to the Bigtree family a generation ago, Swamplandia! was also the home of Chief Bigtree, his wife Hilola, their son Kiwi and two daughters, Osceola and Ava.

Written by Karen Russell, Swamplandia! is the story of another world, a parallel island universe, which offers its inhabitants only limited interaction with the mainland world, consisting of paying guests who were willing to part with their money to ride the ferry to the island amusement park. But, Hilola’s illness and tragic death leaves her family bereft and disintegrating and the future of Swamplandia! uncertain. Chief Bigtree temporarily relocates to the mainland, leaving the three children on their own. Kiwi, the only son, leaves the island to work for a rival amusement park, and dreams of living a normal life and going to school. The oldest daughter, Ossie, finds a book about the occult and believes she is communication with a young man who died tragically many years before while working on a dredge boat in the swamps. And Ava, the youngest daughter, meets with tragedy as she attempts to follow her sister into the Underworld to prevent Ossie’s marriage to the dead dredger.

Russell interjects some interesting similes, like “ . . . our mom’s cooking strategy was to throw a couple of raw things into a greased pan and wait to see what happened, like watching strangers on a date.” And pieces of good advice, “But if you kept thinking about a fight you’d lost, Mom said, you were programming yourself to lose again.” Some of the stories are humorous, and some are intriguing, but there is tragedy, too, enough for the reader to feel how damaged the characters are by their circumstances.

Elements of the book might suggest to a potential reader that it is a whimsical story, somewhat fantastic and lighthearted, with the notion of a created “tribe” of Bigtrees, along with their manufactured heritage and the fascination with wrangling alligators. But the family’s isolation and subsequent move to the mainland from their created world will be a difficult adjustment. Readers are left to wonder if the resilient ones will make it.

Swamplandia! was published in 2011 by Knopf.

1 comment:

  1. Still in the middle of this one, and I haven't gotten much farther since we talked. I am anxious about where it's headed at this point, and this birdman development, well, it just feels unsavory. I will eventually get back to it, and I am sure there will be much to discuss!

    Marlene Detierro (Fishing Deschutes River)