Karen Russell is in the Debut Spotlight today as she seamlessly moves from an acclaimed short story collection to her first novel SWAMPLANDIA!
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.
The reviewers say:
“Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride: Russell has style in spades…If Russell’s style is a North American take on magical realism, then her commitment to life’s nitty-gritties anchors the magic; we are more inclined to suspend disbelief at the moments that verge on the paranormal because she has turned Swamplandia! into a credible world.”
— Emma Donoghue for The New York Times Book Review
Russell has perfected a tone of deadpan wit and imperiled innocence that I find deeply endearing…you never know when a riptide of tragedy might pull away the humor of Swamplandia!
— Ron Charles for the Washington Post
This was the first time I’ve read Karen Russell’s work, and I was dazzled. It’s very rare, among the tonnage of manuscripts and galleys that land upon one’s desk, to come across a young novelist so inventive and versatile, yet so thoroughly in control. Also, I’m a sucker for any plot line that features man-eating reptiles. I can’t recall the last time I came across a character who shines as brightly as Ava, or a first novel that made such a rich and lasting impression.
— Carl Hiaasen for Amazon.com Review
This one is definitely going into my pile! Have you read it yet? What did you think?
— Dana Barrett, Managing Editor