Russell, Karen, 1981-

Book - 2011
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Random House, Inc.
From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collectionSt. 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.

Baker & Taylor
A first novel by the author of the short-story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves finds the Bigtree children struggling to protect their Florida Everglades alligator-wrestling theme park from a sophisticated competitor after losing their parents. 40,000 first printing.

& Taylor

The Bigtree children struggle to protect their Florida Everglades alligator-wrestling theme park from a sophisticated competitor after losing their parents.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307263995
Branch Call Number: FIC R
Characteristics: 315 p. ; 25 cm.


From Library Staff

We will be discussing Swamplandia! Thursday April 26th at 4:30!

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Dec 22, 2014
  • Chapel_Hill_KenMc rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

This is a very quirky novel, written generally as a humorous and ironic account of the decline of a Florida theme park that has seen better days. The plot flows into a very dark and disturbing place, creating an odd dissonance with the character of the novel, but I would still recommend this novel based on Russell's delightfully written characters.

Jun 06, 2014
  • KateHillier rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Honestly it started out interesting. Very Royal Tenenbaums-ish with the oddball family working at a theme park in the Florida Everglades. The patriarch vanishes on a unspecified business trip, the son runs away to make money, and the two daughters end up with their own problems. The eldest starts dating a ghost and the youngest, at thirteen, sort of ends up running the place. Then nothing happens for awhile until out of nowhere something really shocking and upsetting, with no real consequences or address of any kind, happens. Then still nothing happens.

There are parts that are very well written but the book just goes on too long. And there just seems to be no consequences or sense in much of what takes place either.

Sep 15, 2013
  • artemishi rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Swamplandia! is not exactly what I expected it to be. It's fiction, and not YA or cutesy at all (despite a 12-year-old narrator and a "Madeleine"-esque cover). It's a journey of self-discovery, or going from a self-assured cocoon world of childhood to a much more frightening, uncertain, and dark world of adulthood.

It's got some lovely turns of phrase, and some maddening (and seriously pretentious) turns of phrase; some realistically childish acceptance and some hard-to-swallow family dynamics; it has satirical mocking of modern adolescent culture and a hell of a lot of swearing. At parts slow and plodding, at parts harrowing, it was essentially Literature (with the capital L).

It's filled with the kind of adult themes that make some folk cringe, but I think ultimately it's worth the read. I definitely got a takeaway about being strong and moving forward, even if the past is always at your windowpane, painful and frightening. It also has some lovely things to say about death, mourning, and the idea of loved ones being near even after death.

I'd recommend Swamplandia! to fans of post-modern literature, fictional stories that resemble Greek epics, tragedy with a dash of hope, and folks who understand that whole Florida Everglades area.

Sep 15, 2013
  • Spricebook rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

very good. interesting to learn more about life in the Everglades. cinematic in tone - could easily be a movie. suspenseful. no too syrupy - in fact, very much a lesson in the harsh realities of life.

May 09, 2013
  • TheSponge rated this: 0.5 stars out of 5.

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell's debut novel focuses on a 100-acre theme park in the Florida Everglades that is run by the alligator-wrestling Bigtree clan. As is the case with most entertainment parks, much of Swamplandia! and the Bigtree family is all smoke and mirrors. When the matriarch of the Bigtree family dies, the entire business venture literally falls apart. Not surprisingly, it's around this point in the book that everything else goes to hell in a handbasket as well. I found the writing to be very dark and heavy, the characters quirky and dysfunctional. The characters never really seemed to develop. The story never really took off and lacked cohesion. I was disappointed with the book after all of the glowing reviews and accolades it received in the mainstream media. As with Swamplandia! I guess it was all just smoke and mirrors, a media event. Piffle!

Nov 02, 2012
  • Katieshw rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This is one of those books that bibliophiles are supposed to love, but it's a bit hard to get into. The writing is unique and interesting and the characters are quirky. Not to mention, the setting is fantastic. But the story drags on and on. Finally you get to the climax, and it's a very dark one at that. I recommend it if you have the patience to get to the end.

Oct 20, 2012
  • JimLoter rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

I don't like being wet. I don't like being hot. I don't like swarming insects. Since the characters in Swamplandia! spend a great deal of their time wet, hot, and/or surrounded by insects, that in itself would be enough to keep me uncomfortable. Add to that ... well, almost everything else about the crocodile-wrestling Bigtrees and you have just about the squirmiest, most unpleasant novel I can imagine.

Despite all that, there was a definite magical quality woven throughout that kept me from throwing the book down and swatting at imaginary mosquitos.

Swamplandia! depicts the epic collapse of a larger-than-life Florida show-biz family that has survived on a combination of hyperbolic mythology and disdain for normalcy.

After the matriarch and star attraction dies of cancer, the Bigtree family's Swamplandia! theme park is further threatened by a well-funded but banal mainland attraction that siphons off their remaining guests. Facing foreclosure, papa Bigtree ventures to the mainland to conduct unspecified business and leaves his three children behind. Whatever tenuous connection with reality these three home-schooled, erudite-yet-somewhat-feral kids has is quickly severed.

Ava's journey through the Florida swamps with the Bird Man (and her subsequent escape from him) was definitely dark and tense but also lyrical, like a Nick Cave song. Kiwi's parallel mainland adventure was less engaging; he often made me feel like smacking him. In the end, each of the Bigtree children is transformed, deflowered, and subsumed into the reality their father sought to escape for so long.

Just as the Melaleuca trees invaded their beloved swamps, civilization finally gains a stranglehold on the Bigtrees.

Aug 24, 2012
  • NATHANIEL ANTHONY ROMIG rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

It's such a good book.

Jul 27, 2012
  • dstarr rated this: 1.5 stars out of 5.

I had a difficult time getting through this book. I read the whole book because it's one my book club chose. It seemed, to me, that the story was always just about ready to 'take off', but never really did. The characters were unsympathetic to me. I didn't care much what happened to them. The book lacked a cohesiveness throughout.

Jul 19, 2012
  • katbehrend rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I liked this book, despite its dark nature! Thought that the characters were all interesting and quirky and I enjoyed watching them develop as their family drama unfolded. It left me feeling heavy, but I think the story was compelling, at times mythical and dream-like.

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Jun 25, 2011
  • ndp21f rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

You're going to get the both of us killed . . . ," he pretended to repeat, but I knew this was different from what he'd said the first time. The first time, I was alone in the sentence.

Jun 25, 2011
  • ndp21f rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

She was a beautiful woman. You look just like her, Ava." I burned in the bow seat. I thought this was the kindest lie anybody had ever told me.

Jun 25, 2011
  • ndp21f rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

What are Ava and Ossie doing today? An easy thought to erase. Sometimes Kiwi wondered if he was also a genius at Zen Buddhism, he had become such an expert at annulling certain attachments.

Jun 25, 2011
  • ndp21f rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I'd let her rest her leathery head against my shoulder while I touched the saffron plates of her neck. The Chief says it's a terrible sign when a monster gives you this kind of access.

Jun 25, 2011
  • ndp21f rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

We leased an expensive billboard on the interstate, just south of Cape Coral: COME SEE "SETH," FANGSOME SEA SERPENT AND ANCIENT LIZARD OF DEATH!!! We called all our alligators Seth. ("Tradition is important, kids," Chief Bigtree liked to say, "as promotional materials are expensive.")


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Sep 15, 2013
  • artemishi rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

artemishi thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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