Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – Gators love ’em some marshmallows

June 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm 2 comments

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Published in 2010
For this book I am saying “read it”, but know that this book has some problems.  It was originally a short story that was then lengthened into a novel and it is obvious.  I can tell when I start skimming during the “exciting” parts of a book that just perhaps this has gone on a bit too long.
When Mark and I went to New Orleans a few years ago I had this bright idea to go on a gator boat ride.  But once  we had gotten there, paid and got on the boat did I begin to regret this decision.  The boat captain (I am being generous here) would throw marshmallows at the ‘gators to get them to swim out towards the boat.  And them gators, they love marshmallows.  But it made me think “wait marshmallows are bad for people so they can’t be good for alligators” and “this kind of makes me sad” and “couldn’t we have spent that $14.00 on beignets instead.” So this is what this book reminded me of because it is another sad gator story (no, not really).
Ava Bigtree is the main character. She has grown to the ripe age of thirteen on an island in Florida on her family’s gator park.  The gator park has alligator wrestling, a cafe, and a museum of artifacts from the Bigtree tribe. At the beginning of the story it is hard to gauge how great this park really is because through Ava’s sheltered eyes it is an amazing park and her mother is a trophy winning alligator wrestler.  But once her mother dies from cancer, the gloves are off. The reader realizes that maybe everything isn’t what Ava thought it was.  And maybe all along they had just been feeding the gators marshmallows.
The story follows Ava and her older brother Kiwi who runs away to make money to save the park and get an education.  It does not follow Ossie, Ava’s sixteen year old sister, who believes she can hear spirits and runs away to marry a ghost.  So here is where I start to worry.  Ava seems so poor in her decision making that I started to blame her for her bad decisions. Which really bothers me. You can’t blame a 13 year old raised on an isolated island when she truly believes that a man is there to call off the birds.  You can’t blame a 16 year old when she has never had the luxury of young love and instead decides to focus on her ouiji board.  But still, as a reader, you do.
Then Russell, who does all of this guilt trip stuff, wraps the novel up before you can say “Bob’s your uncle” and you sit thinking “wait, did I just get fed a marshmallow?” And the answer is “yes, yes you did.”

Entry filed under: June 2011 reads. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lori  |  June 23, 2011 at 3:14 am

    This is a great idea! Not the feeding gators marshmallows thing- that’s a bad idea. They would much rather have chicken legs or small dogs… just sayin’. The blog is great. Me likey.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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