We are warned in the first chapter that it’s the beginning of the end. This is true of the alligator-wrestling amusement park that is Swamplandia! (the exclamation point tacked on is an endearing affectation). It’s also true of the matriarch of the Bigtree family (they run Swamplandia!), who has recently died, leaving her family devastated. The patriarch—referred to as the Chief—goes to the mainland on business; Kiwi (the male protagonist) runs away to the mainland to earn money for the dwindling tourist attraction by working at the amusement park that put them out of business; Osceola begins talking to (and falling in love with) ghosts; Ava (our female protagonist) is left trying to keep everything else working, while also raising a red alligator.
The real action in this novel begins when Ossie runs off with her ghost boyfriend, leaving Ava a note saying they’re getting married. Ava enlists the help of a mysterious Bird Man who has appeared on her island (supposedly to scare away some of the peskier birds). Her adventure into the swamps in search of her wayward sister will leave her forever changed.
While this description of the novel may sound intriguing, I can tell you that it felt very tiresome to read. Author Karen Russell has a crisp vocabulary and is great at delivering vivid descriptions (hence why the novel has been so lauded). Although she creates a very imaginative world of alligators and swampland and a morbid amusement park, the story slowly meanders to its eventually exciting climax. Russell has talent oozing out of her pores, but she didn’t engage me as a reader in this attempt.
(If this is what the other short-listed Pulitzer Prize nominees are like, it’s no wonder that no one was awarded it last year.)
- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – review (guardian.co.uk)
- HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #19: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (cannonballread4.wordpress.com)
- Swamplandia! The Power of Hype (martinanewhook.com)