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Swamplandia! by

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ISBN: 9780701186029

Our mother performed in starlight.

Ava Bigtree lives in Swamplandia! with her family. They wrestle alligators in front of tourists for a living. Until recently Ava’s mother Hillola was the star of the show, her moonlight swim through the gator pond was always a hit with the audience. But then she got sick, and died. And Grandpa Sawtooth has been taken to the old folk’s home. Tourist numbers are down, and things are only getting worse. Chief Bigtree, Ava’s father, goes off to the mainland on a business trip looking for investors, and Ava’s older brother Kiwi has abandoned the swamp, taking a job with the arch-enemy, The World of Darkness, a more modern and lucrative amusement park. And now Ava’s sister is dating ghosts.

SwamplandiaI soooo wanted to like this book. I’d heard so many good things about her collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and about Russell’s writing that I thought this would be a book that would suit me. And the blurb promised a dark and mythic story. Plus, you know, alligators and swamps.

But I found that while some aspects of this book really did work, it just didn’t pull together as a whole. There were hints of atmosphere, but the plot just meandered on and around and over here, and then back again. It never held my attention despite some of the scenes, such as the story of Louis Thanksgiving, that I thought was very well done.

And as a whole it was predictable. And bits of it seemed dark just to be dark, they didn’t add to the story, or to the characters. And in many ways the style of the book echoed that unsatisfying experience. While in some places I did really enjoy her way of describing a person, or a scene, for the most part I was bored. I was tempted to stop, but Ava & Kiwi’s stories gripped me just enough that I had sufficient interest to finish the book.

Other reviews: Nonsuch book ; Slant Magazine ; Chamber 4

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5 Comments

  • 17 April 2011 - 8:14 am | Permalink

    It seems to be a somehwta disappointing book. I wanted to read this but this is the second negative review I read and Gavin (Page 247) had the exact same problems with the book. She also read the short stories and says they are far better. I got that collection now and am looking forward to reading it.
    Caroline´s last blog post ..Dutch Literature Recommendations
    Caroline´s last blog post ..Dutch Literature Recommendations

    • 21 April 2011 - 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I've heard that, and I did order in her short stories, I'll just have to find the time for them now :)

  • 10 May 2011 - 9:57 pm | Permalink

    I am SO on the fence about reading this one, but I keep hearing the same (very mixed) things, and there's just not enough reading time to go for the mixed reviewed books when the universally lauded (or mostly universally lauded) libros are waiting in the wings. It's a shame, this seems to have so much promise and her short stories are TERRIFIC, seems to me like a case of editor/publishing house really not putting book through the ringer the way they needed to…

    • 10 May 2011 - 11:07 pm | Permalink

      Could very will be the case. Editors are not as demanding as they once were. I will have to look into reading her short stories thought, heard nothing but good things about them

  • Max
    16 February 2012 - 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I had high expectations of Swamplandia! based on the buzz; I'm a lover of southern gothic and thought this would be right up my alley. It's the story of the Bigtree family, a "tribe" who runs the alligator-wrestling park Swamplandia! in an island chain off of Florida. Having the island to themselves except for the tourists, the Bigtrees inhabit a very different sort of world; they have a museum filled with family artifacts, children who are homeschooled and rarely set foot on the "mainland," and a mother who wrestles alligators. Things hum along nicely until their mother, Hilola Bigtree, succumbs to cancer, throwing the entire family into a tailspin. It was worth the read, but didn't quite live up to the hype for me.
    Max´s last blog post ..Discover How To Power Level Your WoW Character
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