- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (Feb. 1 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307263991
- ISBN-13: 978-0307263995
- Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 3.3 x 24.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 612 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #917,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Swamplandia! Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Feb 1 2011
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Praise for Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!
“Karen Russell is young and talented, and has been given just about every age-appropriate honor there is—Best Young American Novelists, 20 Under 40, 5 Under 35. With her debut novel, though, she’s leaving the kids’ table forever. The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement for anyone, period. . . . Effortless prose and [a] small, beautifully drawn cast of characters . . . as densely organic as the swamp in which it is set.”
—Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly, A–
“If no such thing as the Great Floridian Novel already existed, consider it done. Karen Russell, anointed by Granta and The New Yorker as one our most brilliant young writers, fulfills the promise of her fiercely original 2006 story collection [with] a novel of idiosyncratic and eloquent language; hyperreal, Technicolor settings; and larger-than-life characters who are nonetheless heartbreakingly vulnerable and keenly emotional. It’s a tour de force. . . . Near-hallucinatory in its intensity—not only in it’s dark, sad, enthralling plot, but in its descriptions of the swamp: gorgeous, precise, lush poetry. The book becomes sharply suspenseful as Russell’s fearless eye and voice go deep into the swamps of adolescence, of what it is to lose a mother, and of Florida itself.”
—Kate Christensen, Elle
“Karen Russell is a fine purveyor of the unexpected, humorous and razor-sharp description . . . Exactly often enough, her vivid description gives way to a deftly inserted truth. . . . Swamplandia! flashes brilliantly—holographically—between a surreal tale brimming with sophisticated whimsy and an all-too-realistic portrait of a quaint but dysfunctional family under pressure in a world that threatens to make them obsolete. . . . Ava is a true contemporary heroine and not easily forgotten.”
—Pam Houston, More
“This impressively self-assured debut novel may bet the best book you’ll ever read about a girl trying to save her family’s alligator-wrestling theme park.”
—Karen Holt, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Winningly told . . . rambunctious.”
—Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Russell does what she does best here—presenting a world we recognize and imbuing it with magical mysticism—and does it brilliantly. The surreal is never a prop, and there’s a heart to the writing that goes beyond the sensational. The novel’s backbone is in the nuanced intricacies of its characters, in their hopes and fears whether tangible or touchingly naïve. . . . Russell’s sentences are well-crafted miniatures building to create a world so enchanted that we are both comforted and devastated to realize that it’s our own. Swamplandia! is a dizzying cocktail of heartbreak and humor, a first novel worthy of celebration.”
—Laurie Ann Cedilnik, Bust
“[A] cunning first novel. . . . Russell's willingness to lend flesh and blood to her fanciful, fantastical creations gives this spry novel a potent punch and announces an enthralling new beginning for a quickly evolving young author.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Brilliant, funny, original . . . also creepy and sinister . . . Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is every bit as good as her short stories promised it would be. This book will not leave my mind.”
“A wonderfully fertile novel by an unfairly talented writer.”
—Joseph O’Neill, author of Blood-Dark Track: A Family History
“Karen Russell’s worlds, like her protagonists, are fierce and wondrous and hilarious and heartbreaking, and Swamplandia! features everything a reader could want, from bears with bad rhythm to Live Chicken Thursdays to as visceral and dazzling a portrait of south Florida’s now almost destroyed wilderness as you’re likely to read. But mostly it’s a gorgeous and wrenching portrait of sibling love in all its helpless and furious and panicked indefatigability, and of one girl’s determination to do what she can to hold what’s left of her family together.”
—Jim Shepard, author of Like You’d Understand Anyway
“I would cross even the most crocodile and yellow-fever infested swamp just to spend an hour with Russell’s prose. She has an imagination like Calvino, an ear like Tennyson, a heart like Carson McCullers, an observing intelligence like Marianne Moore; what I really mean to say is she is a strange and wonderful writer like none other I know.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
“Lavishly imagined and spectacularly crafted. . . . Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell’s archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“A love song to paradise and innocence lost. This wildly imaginative debut novel . . . delivers.”
—Sally Bissell, Library Journal (starred review)
Praise for St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
“How I wish these were my own words, instead of breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s, whose stories begin, in prose form, where the jabberwocky left off. . . . Run for your life. This girl is on fire.”
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Already a master of tone and texture and an authority on the bizarre, Karen Russell writes with great flair and fearlessness. . . . The way Russell beds mundane detail in surrealist settings makes her work exceptionally evocative. . . . Russell’s astonishing gifts augur well for a novel of maturity and complexity. It’s only a matter of time.”
—Carlo Wolff, The Denver Post
“Karen Russell is a storyteller with a voice like no other. . . . Laced with humor and compassion.”
—Lauren Gallo, People
“One of the strangest, creepiest, most surreal collections of tales published in recent memory. . . . Her writing bristles with confidence.”
—June Sawyers, San Francisco Chronicle
“Twenty-five-year-old wunderkind Karen Russell . . . proves herself a mythologist of the darkest and most disturbing sort. . . . Ten unforgettable, gorgeously imaginative tales.”
—Jenny Feldman, Elle
“The landscapes of Russell’s imagination are magical places. . . . [A] casual blend of insight and, well, whimmerdoodle. . . . The fablelike settings Russell invents throw the very real absurdity of childhood into relief. . . . Charming and imaginative. . . . [O]ne can sense Russell’s enthusiasm and playfulness, both of which she has in spades.”
—Francesca Delbanco, Chicago Tribune
“With this weird, wondrous debut, 25-year-old Russell blows up the aphorism ‘Age equals experience.’ She also suggests ‘Write what you know’ is similarly useless, unless she’s a girl living on a Florida farm, two brothers who dive for the ghost of their dead sister, and children at a sleep disorder camp. These stories are part Flannery O’Connor, part Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and entirely her own.”
—Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly
“Endlessly inventive, over-the-top, over-the-edge stories, all delivered in the most confident, exquisitely rambunctious manner. Fabulous fun.”
“Edgy-lit lovers will adore this debut short-story collection set in imaginative venues like icebergs.”
“Hallelujah! Karen Russell’s work sweeps the ground from beneath your feet and replaces it with something new and wondrous, part Florida swampland, part holy water. A confident, auspicious, uncomfortable debut.”
“Most writers her age haven’t yet matched Russell’s chief achievement: honing a voice so singular and assured that you’d willingly follow it into dark, lawless territory. Which, as it happens, is exactly where it leads us.”
—Caroline McCloskey, Time Out New York
“This book is a miracle. Karen Russell is a literary mystic, channeling spectral tales that surge with feeling. A devastatingly beautiful debut by a powerful new writer.”
“In spare but evocative prose, the 25-year-old conjures a weird world of young misfits and ghosts in the Everglades.”
—Jenny Comita, W Magazine
“A marvelous book in the tradition of George Saunders and Katherine Dunn.”
—Quentin Rowan, New York Post
“Karen Russell’s fresh and original voice makes this a stunning collection to savor.”
“Karen Russell’s startlingly original collection features graceful and seductive prose that transports the reader into surreal and yet utterly plausible realms.”
—Harvey Freedenberg, Bookpage
“Russell makes her sparkling debut with these 10 curious, sophisticated and whimsical stories.”
—Lindsey Hunter, OK! Weekly
“Russell’s first story collection is a thing of beauty. . . . This startingly original set of stories, which feels as though it might have been written by Lemony Snicket and Margaret Atwood, is nto to be missed, and author Russell, whose fiction debuted in The New Yorker and who was chosen by New York magazine as one of 25 People To Watch Under 25,’ is poised to become a literary powerhouse. Recommended.”
—Amy Ford, Library Journal
“25-year-old wunderkind Karen Russell—whose house-afire prose has already lit up the pages of Granta and The New Yorker—proves herself a mythologist of the darkest and most disturbing sort. . . . [U]nforgettable, gorgeously imaginative tales. . . . With a flair for transforming common aspects of local culture—from gators to sand-sledding—into wondrous miracles, Russell also cuts straight to the heart of adolescence.”
—Jenny Feldman, Elle
“Armed with a subversive sense of humor and a wicked turn-of-phrase, a young writer sets out to redefine the Southern gothic.”
—Brendan Lemon, Interview
“This unusual, haunting collection confirms that the hype is well deserved. Like the people in Gina Oschner’s stories, Russell’s characters are caught between overlapping worlds—living and dead, primal and civilized, animal and human—and the adolescent narrators are neither children nor adults. . . . [U]nforgettable. Russell writes even the smallest details with audacious, witty precision. . . . Her scenes deftly balance mythology and the gleeful absurdity of Monty Pytho with a darker urgency to acknowledge the ancient, the infinite, and the inadequacies of being human. . . . Original and astonishing, joyful and unsettling, these are stories that will stay with readers.”
—Gillian Engberg, Booklist (starred review)
“[Karen Russell] merges the satirical spirit of George Saunders with the sophisticated whimsy of recent animated Hollywood film. . . . Russell has powers of description and mimicry reminiscent of Jonathan Safran Foer . . . and her macabre fantasies structurally evoke great Southern writers like Flannery O’Conner.”
About the Author
Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and on The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list, and was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. In 2009, she received the 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. Three of her short stories have been selected for the Best American Short Stories volumes. She is currently writer-in-residence at Bard College.See all Product description
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That being said, I didn't even get half-way through Swamplandia before wanting to throw the book across the room. Russell seems incapable of writing a sentence without inserting at least one absurd or meaningless descriptive metaphor. Her creativity in this area is stunning and apparently boundless. It almost seems as though Russell is suffering from some deep insecurity which makes her feel the need to constantly reaffirm how clever she is as a writer. The result is an endless stream of nonsensical descriptive language that manages to utterly obscure an otherwise captivating story. Russell's writing style is the equivalent of a heavily muscled bodybuilder walking down a street without a shirt, stopping at every glass window to flex.
Like I said, Russell is a phenomenal writer, but I think her story would shine far more if it wasn't stifled beneath so many layers of unnecessary and distracting descriptions. I hope she didn't try so damn hard in her later books because she's got insane potential.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Most of the story is told in first person, by thirteen-year-old Ava. Some chapters are told in third person from brother Kiwi’s point of view. We never see older sister Ossie’s perspective. She is viewed at a distance through the other characters. These kids have had a most unusual upbringing in a family of alligator wrestlers on a tiny private island. They are loosely home schooled. Their only exposure to mainlanders has been those who arrive by the boatloads to the family’s theme park, Swamplandia! The star attraction is the mother’s dive into a pit of alligators. When Mom dies of cancer their world breaks apart, piece by piece. Ossie communes with ghosts and receives messages from the spirit world through her Ouija Board. She falls in love a ghost and they become engaged. It’s never clear whether there really are ghosts, or if Ossie has gone off the deep end. I suspect the latter. With their theme park failing, the father leaves to work on the mainland. Kiwi eventually leaves too, and finds a job at a competing theme park called the World of Darkness. Ossie elopes with her ghost. This leaves Ava completely alone in the deserted alligator park. She is approached by an odd character known as the Bird Man, who says Ava’s father owes him money. He discovers Ava is alone when she tells him how her sister has run off with a ghost. Bird Man leads Ava on a quest for the Underworld to find her Ossie, “before it’s too late.”
Each of the three children comes of age in their own way, separated from the others. The book is filled with clever symbolism, and I’m sure there are many symbols I did not catch.
Not everyone in my book club loved this book as much as I did. We were split 50/50 among those who loved and those who disliked it. So I can’t really say for sure who I’d recommend it to. But I will say, dare to give this book a chance. If you love it, you have found a brilliant tale that will overwhelm your imagination and stay with you for all time.
Swamplandia! is an amusement park on an island, which is part of the Florida Everglades. The park features, among other things, alligator wrestling, and the main wrestler is a woman, Hilola Bigtree, who is struck with cancer. Her husband, the Chief, operates the place, and their three children help out. With the death of Hilola Bigtree, which occurs on page eight, her family must cope, but what happens, instead?
Without their star attraction, the business begins to fail. The Chief decamps, and the children aren’t even sure where, on the mainland, he has landed. Teenage Kiwi, the only son, also leaves. He realizes he must send money home to keep the park afloat and takes a job at a competing park called World of Darkness. The elder daughter, Ossie, exits with an entity she believes is a ghost, and for a time, the reader might be fooled into thinking she actually does. Ava, the young narrator of most of the novel (her chapters are the only ones written in first-person), is left to fend for herself, and she does a most unwise thing: trusts a male adult who is not a member of her family, not even someone she knows tangentially, to help her locate her sister. To tell any more is to spoil your read.
I can say, however, that in the same manner in which I envy someone’s great photograph, I wish I’d written a book like this. At first, it fools you into thinking it’s sort of a comic romp, but then these people Russell has created are too smart for that alone. Though home schooled (by way of Florida state curriculum), all three children have great vocabularies, use their common sense to help them out of the trouble that even smart kids can get into. They pay attention (to some things, anyway). They become acquainted with the unjust and tragic history of the Seminole Indians, which perhaps keeps them from feeling as sorry for themselves as they might. Russell’s metaphors are apt, growing naturally out of this swampy environment. Here, little Ava compares alligators to her missing sister:
“Even if she’d [Ossie] gotten away from him [her ghost fiancé] the prognostications were grim—alligators with unusual pigmentation can’t camouflage themselves in the dust-and-olive palette of the swamp. Their skin is spotlit for predators. That’s why you don’t see albino Seths [Ava’s pet name for alligators] in the wild. Once an alligator reaches a size of four feet its only real predator is man” (338).
Ava’s mind is using the image of alligators to speak the unspeakable: that her sister has probably disappeared with a ghost, who has the unlikely name of Louis Thanksgiving. Yet Ava faces her own trials (this is NOT a Young Adult novel), and in the end, by what seems a great coincidence which the author has earned the right to employ, the family is united, or reconstituted. At any rate, Russell, who has also published fiction in The New Yorker, is sure to garner our attention for a long time if she can create other exciting narratives like Swamplandia!
Ms. Russel’s writing is simply brilliant. Until you begin taking it for granted you pause at each clever phrase and whisper, “Wow!”
This was Ms. Russell’s second novel and it deserved being shortlisted for the Pulitzer. Alas, the prize wasn’t awarded in 2012. The Pulitzer jury’s decision was more than curious. David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King” wasn’t even completed in his lifetime, and was forensically pieced together by his editor. It shouldn’t even have been on the short list. Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams” is a piece of drug-induced lunacy and not remotely literary. The prize is awarded for the best work of American fiction that year and the jury shouldn’t have been deadlocked. What were they thinking?