on September 8, 2011
Swamplandia! is a passage out of the safety and comfort of childhood and into the fraught and brutal realities of adulthood. In the beginning, I couldn't place the decade in which the novel is set. You arrive into this fantastical swamp oasis, a family circus, an alligator-wrestling dynasty. Russell uses juxtapositions to propel the reader forward: The remote family operated Swamplandia! versus the suburban corporate World of Darkness; the ghost Dredgeman who escapes an unloving abusive family versus Kiwi, the brother, who escapes a loving-if-dysfunctional family; the sister who believes she is having an affair with a ghost versus the sister who believes a complete stranger is a fictitious mystical Bird Man. Well, worth the journey!
Every five pages or so I kept saying to myself, "This reminds me of Geek Love by Katherine Dunn". So it was interesting to see that Russell singles Dunn out in her acknowledgements. Russell is definitely talented and I was initially engaged in the early stages. However, the entire effort's beautiful prose did not make up for a plot that lacks comprehension and cohesion. Once the action left Swamplandia!, a tacky tourist attraction, the steam went out. I have never quite read a book like it, there was a great deal going on, yet it never gelled or truly compelled.