Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline—think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades—and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness.
Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL."
Swamplandia! is not exactly what I expected it to be. It's fiction, and not YA or cutesy at all (despite a 12-year-old narrator and a "Madeleine"-esque cover). It's a journey of self-discovery, or going from a self-assured cocoon world of childhood to a much more frightening, uncertain, and dark world of adulthood.
It's got some lovely turns of phrase, and some maddening (and seriously pretentious) turns of phrase; some realistically childish acceptance and some hard-to-swallow family dynamics; it has satirical mocking of modern adolescent culture and a hell of a lot of swearing. At parts slow and plodding, at parts harrowing, it was essentially Literature (with the capital L).
It's filled with the kind of adult themes that make some folk cringe, but I think ultimately it's worth the read. I definitely got a takeaway about being strong and moving forward, even if the past is always at your windowpane, painful and frightening. It also has some lovely things to say about death, mourning, and the idea of loved ones being near even after death.
I'd recommend Swamplandia! to fans of post-modern literature, fictional stories that resemble Greek epics, tragedy with a dash of hope, and folks who understand that whole Florida Everglades area.
Labels: adolescence, book review, changes, contemporary, fiction, journey, karen russell, loss, novels in november, swamplandia