Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book two: Swamplandia by Karen Russell.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is a book that has gotten high praise from the literary world, ending up on many "best books of 2011" lists. It was even one of the three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.  So it would seem to be a good candidate for book club. Unfortunately, it didn't fare well with my book club.

The book tells the story of thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree who lives on an island off the southwestern coast of Florida. The Bigtree family have long been the proprietors of Swamplandia!, an old-timey amusement park that features plenty of alligators and alligator wrestlers.  Unfortunately, the park has seen better days and tourists no longer flock to the attraction like they once did. To make ends meet, Ava's father heads to the mainland.  Ava's older brother Kiwi has already run away from home due to disagreements.  And since Ava's mother died several years ago, Ava is left alone on the island with her younger sister Osceola who discovers a book of spells that leads her and her sister on a ghostly adventure.

I get why this book is popular with the literary establishment. I could definitely write a college paper about this book that would get an A. There are literary themes that adorn the story which give it a cohesiveness identity.  For example, birds appear throughout the novel as symbols of change and as warnings.  The use of mystical elements like ghosts, spells, and potions is Shakespearean. And there are some surprising references to literature that must have had the critics squealing with joy.  Take the water slide at a competing theme park "The World of Darkness" with a number of references that would make any Dante scholar happy.

Even with all this going for it, Swamplandia! just didn't resonate with me.  The story was haphazard and at times nonsensical.  I never grew to really care about the characters with their strange behavior and aptitudes for doing things real people just wouldn't consider. And while I enjoyed learning more about Florida's Ten Thousand Islands, I finished the book with no desire to actually go there. Then again, I may just not be literary enough to enjoy this read.

1 comment:

  1. Swamplandia is so imaginative but still feels like something that could happen, in a weird sort of way. Karen Russell not only has a creative mind, she sure can write.
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