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Swamplandia!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.
"Few novelists debut with as much hearty recommendation as Russell, a New Yorker 20-under-40 whose cunning first novel germinates a seed planted in her much-loved collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. We return to Swamplandia!, the once-thriving Florida tourist attraction where the Bigtree clan — Ava, Ossie, Kiwi, and the Chief — wrestles alligators. After the death of mother Hilola — the park's star alligator wrestler — Ava, the youngest Bigtree, takes her place in the spotlight while her sister, Ossie, elopes with a ghostly man named Louis Thanksgiving, and brother Kiwi winds up sweeping floors at Swamplandia!'s competition. Worst of all is the disappearance of the Chief, spurring Ava to embark upon a rescue mission that will take her from the Gulf of Mexico to the gates of hell, occasionally assisted by an unlikely extended family that includes the geriatric Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and a tiny red alligator with the potential to save the park. 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. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"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
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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