Monday, March 28, 2011

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Karen Russell's previous book is a short story collection called St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. (Don't you love that title?) Her novel, Swamplandia!, could also have been called something like The Bigtree Fake Indians' Home for Children Raised by Alligators Named Seth. It's about an eccentric family who operate an outdated tourist attraction on an island in the Florida swamps. Daily alligator wrestling and cheap beer have been the main draws to Swamplandia!, but attendance is down and the place is on the brink of financial ruin.

A series of health-related tragedies results in the three Bigtree children mostly fending for themselves at the time the story takes place. The tale is recounted from the viewpoints of Ava Bigtree, the youngest at thirteen, and her brother Kiwi, who is seventeen. Ossie, sixteen, is going through a boy-crazy phase that troubles her siblings because her boyfriends are ghosts. Ava intends to be the next World Alligator Wrestling Champion. Kiwi dreams of attending a real school on the mainland, instead of teaching himself with ancient mouldy books from an abandoned library boat.

Dysfunctional family drama, creepy swamp scenes, a twisty plot, clever prose style and lots of humour - I loved it.

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