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Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries)by Karen Russell
Russell's debut novel is in a literary class of its own. Swamplandia! is a mystical, fascinating coming-of-age story told from the perspective of the charming 13-year-old Ava. A shabby tourist attraction in Florida and unpredictable family members flavor this highly imaginative novel.
I had never read a book about an alligator-wrestling theme park before, but, boy, did I ever love this one! Thirteen-year-old Ava is faced with the task of not only wrestling gators, but also of saving the theme park, her home, and her family. By turns hilarious, pensive, chilling, and redemptive, Swamplandia! starts out as a sort of swampy coming-of-age story, but, after wandering very far afield, ends up so much more. Truly wonderful.
"Writer Karen Russell is on record stating that, much as she loves reading realist fiction, she couldn't 'write a moving tale about a family of struggling car salesmen in Detroit,' even if 'somebody held a gun to my head.'
Synopses & Reviews
From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves ("How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell's....Run for your life. This girl is on fire!" — Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.
The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava's mother, the park's indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava's father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.
Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family's struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
"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." Booklist (starred review)
"Quirky, outlandish fiction: To say it's offbeat is to seriously underestimate its weirdness." Kirkus Reviews
"Absolutely irresistible....A suspenseful, deeply haunted book....A marvel." The New York Times
"[Russell] has thrown the whole circus of her heart onto the page, safety nets be damned....Russell has deep and true talent." San Francisco Chronicle
"Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride....This family, wrestling with their desires and demons...will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!" The New York Times Book Review
"The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement." Entertainment Weekly
"For its darkness and its glee, I loved this novel." —Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee
“Delightfully odd . . . A fine cast of misfits and dreamers and foes. A” — Entertainment Weekly
“Warm, entertaining and thoughtful . . . a glorious celebration of music.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“For its darkness and its glee, I loved this novel.” — Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Fifteen years ago, a murder-suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it, Minnie Graves. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered in the hotel’s cavernous halls for the annual Statewide festival; Minnie has returned to face her demons; and a colossal snowstorm is threatening to trap them all in the hotel. When a young prodigy goes missing from infamous room 712, the search for her entwines an eccentric cast of conductors and caretakers, failures and stars, teenagers on the verge and adults trapped in memories. A genre-bending page-turner, full of knowing nods to pop culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee, Bellweather Rhapsody is a wholly winning new novel from a writer to watch.
A New York Times Best Book of the Year
One of Granta's Best Young American Novelists
Selected for the New Yorker's 20 Under 40
Nominated for the Orange Prize
Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.
About the Author
Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in The New Yorker's debut fiction issue. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program and is the 2005 recipient of the Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award and was chosen as one of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 in 2009. Her fiction has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrope, and Oxford American. Twenty-eight years old, she lives in New York City.
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