review: swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell


This book was not what I expected — partially because of how my dad originally described it, and partially due to the misleading nature of the book-jacket cover. Regardless, it was an incredible, surprising, and overwhelmingly dark read.

I wanted to follow the story of Ava Bigtree — really, I did! But shortly after Kiwi defects to the World of Darkness, I got frustrated with the dual points of view. What purpose did Kiwi’s POV serve to the story overall? Similarly, I wanted Ava to be a heroine — I wanted her to rescue her sister, become the next big star Alligator Wrestler, and save the park. However, the whole novel falls short when a major event happens to Ava right at the end and it is just…not addressed.

You know that feeling from short stories that you get when something major happens, but then the novel just ends with some sort of image that can be either jarring or cathartic (you rarely know)? That’s how I feel about the ending of this novel. It’s like a 300+ page short story which just leaves you hanging.

That being said, it is incredibly well written. Beautiful imagery, complex characters, and an incredible premise. And in the long run, the intention of the story was fulfilled — because while the park has not been saved, and both Ava and Ossie are left broken hanging, in need of repair, the family has been saved. And that is, I think, what the story is all about.


I would give this book a 4/5 when it comes to ratings so arbitrary as stars. I see a lot of potential in Karen Russell as a novelist — she writes in a manner which is hauntingly beautiful, with imagery as vivid and startling as the red mouth of the alligator in the jacket cover image.

Speaking of the cover of this novel — it is beautiful. I’ve been frequenting this blog for about a year now, which has made me considerably more aware of how to choose a book by its cover — not meaning the content of the book, but which edition or publisher I will purchase given a choice of fantastic covers and mediocre.

This author is on my radar, and I really look forward to her next novel!!


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