Amanda Gates

Book: Swamplandia (Or: Thank God That's Over.)

Well. I mentioned in my post about The Tiger’s Wife that I was having a little trouble understanding why Swamplandia was named a 2011 Book of the Year. Why some critics claimed it “grabs you from the first page!”

I’ve finished it now and: Hi! Still wondering!

Wow, what a weirdo book.

Swamplandia focuses on a family in the swamps of Florida who have an alligator-wrestling-museum-amusement-park. When the mother dies and the attraction falls into disarray, the father leaves his three children to fend for themselves, basically. These kids have never been off this island for more than a mainland visit, so they’re quite the odd ducks. Brother Kiwi finds this out almost immediately after moving to the mainland looking for work. Sister Ossie gets involved with ghosts (ah, what?) and little sister Ava seems to be the only one who cares what happens to everyone.

At first I liked it a bit because the weird family seemed endearing. But page after page of reading about the swamp and alligators and the dirty, rival amusement park… well, it was depressing and, frankly made me feel kind of gross. Like I had just spent a week in the swamp myself. (So, A+ for setting, I suppose? Though is “gross” really the reaction Karen Russell was going for?)

I liked the heroine, Ava, to some extent, but she talked like she was 40 and then was so naive in other ways. Ava’s individual adventure went on for way too long and contained, I felt, a completely unnecessary and gratuitous scene that turned me off completely near the end. By then I was just powering through so I could say I finished it.

This book started from a short story; I’m curious about the short story now, if only to see why Russell thought it warranted an expansion. This is not the first time I’ve disliked something that many others enjoyed, so I won’t take offense if you loved it. It just wasn’t for me, and I’m a little disappointed I spent time reading this when I could’ve read something else. 

Comments

I loved Russell's book of

I loved Russell's book of short stories, though the one on which this book was based was not my favorite. But I tend to think the quirk factor of this kind of writing doesn't always translate to a full-length book. I started reading Swamplandia a couple months ago, and just couldn't get into it. You've made me feel better about bailing. :-) (Oh, and I also didn't like A Visit From the Goon Squad - I also bailed on that!)

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