NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • The bravely imagined, wildly acclaimed debut novel from the author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove—about a thirteen year old girl who sets out on a mission through magical swamps to save her family.
"Ms. Russell is one in a million.... A suspensfuly, deeply haunted book." —The New York Times
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 embarks on her mission to save them all, we are drawn into a lush debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
From its very first sentence, Karen Russell’s debut novel drags us into the haunted, surreal, and beautiful world of Swamplandia, a gator-centric theme park off the Florida coast. Ava Bigtree has lived there for her first 13 years, but now, with the park failing and her family falling apart, Ava and her sister, Osceola, find themselves on their own in peculiar and wondrous new circumstances. Russell’s exquisite prose subtly incorporates touches of magic realism, giving her book the queasy edge of a fever dream. Swamplandia! is a rich, strange, and unforgettable read.
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.
Good Character in Ava
Some good writing here, but not cohesive. Like more than a few contemporary Florida writers, things are way too over the top. Hard to take as serious literature. Maybe I was expecting too much after the good reviews the book has gotten, or maybe there weren't enough good books this year.
This is why real writers are in trouble.
With authors like Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry, at least this tired genre of exploitative Florida side shows are written by those who still live there. Unfortunately, Karen Russell had to be tucked safely away in Manhattan before even publishing her first short story. It's a sad example of what literature has come to, and a sadder example of much better work being overlooked for the sake of pleasing those born at the top.
I begrudgingly finished this book. Rather than being creative and compelling, the plot felt forced, never pulling me into the book. There was no hierarchy among the characters and while Ava was the intended heroine, she was overshadowed by the attention given to the other family members. The story of Louis Thanksgiving was the only riveting section of the book and could have and should have stood alone as a short story.