Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Karen Russell”

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.



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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Carolyn’s CBR4 Review #14: Swamplandia!

I’ll be honest: I picked up this book because of its name and the picture of the alligator on the cover. Who doesn’t love gators? So I had no idea about the plot or even if anyone thought it was any good.

The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline. Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park is losing business to a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Mom Hilola Bigtree, the “swamp centaur,” was the star performer and core of the family business, adept at the arcane art of alligator wrestling. After Hilola’s death from ovarian cancer at only 36 years old, the park begins its slow decline. 13 year old Ava Bigtree steps in as the chief gator-wrangler but tourists are just no longer interested. Ava’s father, the Chief, heads to the mainland to attend “investment meetings” her sister Ossie communes with the dead and has ghost boyfriends and her brother Kiwi (real name) leaves his family a “Valedictory Note” expressing his “insuperable horror at the mismanagement of Swamplandia! and the poverty of our island education” and takes a minimum wage job at the World of Darkness to bail his family out of poverty. After the Chief leaves, Ossie runs away to marry her spectral boyfriend Louis Thanksgiving and Ava enlists the help of the omninous Bird Man to save her sister before she reaches the Underworld.

It’s a bit much. The book scores major points for originality but its originality is compromised by the uneven character and pace of the novel. But generally the big picture wasn’t the issue. It was the myriad little things that got me more. Like Ava and Ossie sitting in the kitchen with bare cupboards, complaining about how hungry they are, and then a few pages later they pack for a trip, stuffing backpacks full of the suddenly plentiful food in the house. Or like an emphatically described cloudless sky, which two paragraphs later begins to rain. Or conversations that have huge gaps, or other ones where a character thinks something but then the other character responds as if the thought had been spoken. Important or even trivial plot points revealed in the wrong order, or tossed haphazardly in the middle of the next scene. Banging us over the head with overly obvious truths, rather than letting us infer them. Terrible character inconsistencies. Lazy, lazy lazy. The worst part of the story is a big reveal towards the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it.  Suffice it to say that something very awful and very unexpected happens about 260 pages into a 300-page book. Now first of all, that is way too late, especially in such a slow-moving and long book. Secondly, it is a pretty horrifying thing, which is dealt with barely at all, and mostly in even more horrifying thoughts and ways. Thirdly, I guess it signals the beginning of the end of the book, and the author frantically tries to resolve all of the dangling plots in a matter of pages resulting in a lot of dropped threads, unanswered questions and an utterly unfulfilling closing scene.

Also, Russell is often guilty of one of my biggest writing pet peeves: using words that don’t make logical sense because they sound pretty. “The moon continued to whir,” or “Their wings panted towards us.” This kind of writing sounds good and poetic or whatever, but the more I think about what it’s supposed to mean, the more frustrated I get. And it slows the book down even more. (HOW CAN THE MOON POSSIBLY WHIR? SPACE IS SILENT.)

Long story short, I’d give this book a pass if I were you.

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