on July 24, 2016
There's no doubting Karen Russell's talent as a wordsmith. She is a supremely gifted young writer with an astounding grasp of the English language. Swamplandia is an original work of fiction with rich, interesting characters and a solid storyline.
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.
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.