June 5th, 2011 | 1 Comment
Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! published in February by Knopf, has been reviewed by Carl Hiaasen and received quotes from O, The Oprah Magazine; Gary Shteyngart; and (gasp) Stephen King, who called it “Brilliant, funny, original”. Russell previously published a book of short stories St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
This is the story of thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree, alligator wrestler. Ava grew up on an island off the Florida coast called Swamplandia! (yes, with an exclamation mark). Ava’s mother, Hilola Bigtree, was the star of her family’s alligator wrestling show, performed regularly for tourists from the mainland. When Hilola dies from cancer at the young age of thirty-six, the show is in trouble. Tourists stop coming and money runs out. Both Ava’s father, the Chief, and older brother, Kiwi, leave the island in search of money. Kiwi goes to work for their competitor World of Darkness, but where the Chief goes is a mystery. It’s not unusual for him to disappear for a couple of months, but this time her mother isn’t there. She’s left alone with her sixteen-year-old sister, Ossie, who’s recently become a spiritualist and is cavorting with the dead. Ossie spends her nights visiting her ghost of a boyfriend, but one night does not return, leaving young Ava completely unsupervised. Growing up in isolation and being home schooled by her mother, Ava lacks street smarts and invites the first strange man she comes across to spend the night in her house. He is the bird man, known as such for wearing a coat of feathers and making a living calling to and herding birds. He promises to take to Ava to the point in the swamp where the living world meets the underworld since this is likely where Ossie went to marry her boyfriend. They embark on an adventure through the swampland, which may not be around for much longer since the government has been trying to drain it.