Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Florida”

HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #19: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! is the story of a family who, after the death of their mother, struggles to keep their family together and their long running alligator tourist attraction.  When the three siblings, Ava, Ossie, and Kiwi, all get separated, Russell’s magical prose tells the epic story of how they reunite and move on.

Karen Russell’s first novel offers three elements that make it worth reading.  First, the setting. A family run alligator farm in the swamps of Florida. The descriptions are brilliant; of the alligator wrestling, of their recently deceased mother’s nightly shows, of the birth of a red alligator, of the tourists that come streaming through their park. It’s almost magical, although the book is mostly grounded in the real world.

Second, Ava. Ava is the youngest child in the family, struggling to save the family’s alligator park because she desperately wants to keep her family together and their traditions alive. The way she identifies with the alligators, the way she wants to mimic her mother in every way, the way she believes in her sister’s elaborate ghost stories.

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Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #24: Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Unsworth’s novel is historical fiction at its finest, a sprawling story of corruption and vengeance that begins in 1752 in the ship-building city of Liverpool, England, crosses the sea to the shores of Africa and back, and ends 13 years later in Florida, England’s newest colony in the Americas. Sacred Hunger is also a philosophical treatise on morality, wherein the reader is repeatedly challenged on the fundamental question of what constitutes a good and worthy life. The story centers around the African slave trade. But, in fact, it is about enslavement—whether by chains, superstition, or greed—and as such, it succeeds in powerfully transcending the historical period it encompasses.

The story begins with wealthy Liverpool merchant Kemp, who is building a slave ship upon which he has pinned his hopes for reversing his recent financial losses on the sugar market. His son Erasmus is a soulless figure, oblivious to his father’s dire straits and concerned only with winning Sarah Wolpert as his bride. Enter Matthew Paris, a physician and Kemp’s nephew who has lost his wife and unborn child while imprisoned for challenging church doctrine. Erasmus despises his cousin, an irrational hatred which is to become the defining thread of his—and Paris’—life. Kemp pays Paris’ way out of jail and hires him as surgeon for his ship’s maiden voyage to Africa, under the captainship of the tyrannical Saul Thurso. And thus the stage is set. Many colorful characters are added to the plot, from the “scum of the earth” who are gangpressed into service aboard the ship, to the African slave dealers who buy and sell their brethren like cattle, to the politicians at home and colonial governors abroad to whom the “sacred hunger” of wealth and power, is everything, to the slaves themselves—all of whom we come to know intimately by the novel’s end.

For fear of spoiling the plot, I won’t give any more details on the story itself. However, I have to say that I found the author’s writing to be brilliant. He is able to vividly capture the smells of the shipyard, the stink and corruption of Liverpool’s dockside pubs, the brutal tensions aboard the slave ship, the humanity–and the despair–of the slaves. Most of all, the reader cannot fail to come away from reading this novel with a profound disgust for the venality of the British Empire itself, which I would say is ultimately the real villain of this book.

toepic’s cbr4# Review #6: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell book cover alligator open mouth

13 year old Ava Bigree, of the World Famous Bigtree alligator-wrestling clan, has problems. Her mom, and main Swamplandia! attraction Hilola Bigtree has recently passed away of cancer. Sister Ossie has since developed an obsession with ghosts and is retreating from reality. Brother Kiwi has taken off for the mainland trying to earn money and save the suddenly failing Swamplandia! theme park. Chief Bigtree? he’s nowhere to be found.

Ava’s journey through Florida’s swampland is terrifying and perilous. Kiwi’s navagation of the mainland is the same. One thing is clear, the Bigtree family will never be the same.

Swamplandia! has received a lot of acclaim, appearing on many 2011 end-of-year book lists. It’s also garnered some bad reviews on Amazon and CBR4. Most of the criticism seems to center around Russell’s uneven writing and loose plot points. Those criticisms are certainly valid. However, the story was dramatic and engaging. I’ll take a good story over good writing any day.

Speaking of uneven writing, if I was writing one of those terrible book jacket blurbs,  I’d say this book is a coming-of-age fish-out-of-water familial-drama.

Most highlighted quote from Kindle users:

The Beginning of the End can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it.

If you liked Geek Love, but wished it had much less mutilation and carnies. Or you liked Huck Finn but thought it needed a little more.

TV Note: According to the Hollywood Reporter, HBO has optioned Swamplandia! as a half hour comedy (weird) with Scott Rudin (The Social Network) as executive producer.

PBS interview with Karen Russell after the jump.

For all my reviews plus more book news, opinions and rants, go to Barely Literary.


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