My how the month has flown. Reading and writing have taken a back seat recently to a marvelous trip to New Orleans with Mrs. Next. It was my first visit and I admit to having a rather serious crush on the Crescent City.
At last I finished Karen Russell's Swamplandia! and I must say I wholeheartedly agree with Joseph O'Neill's backcover blurb:"A wonderfully fertile novel by an unfairly talented writer." Russell is only 29 years old and her writing makes my head spin like a radar dish. In a good way.
Swamplandia! itself is a down-at-the-heels theme park (the theme is alligator wrestling) on an isolated island in the Florida Everglades. The story begins with the death by cancer of Hilola Bigtree, the park's main attraction and matriarch of the Bigtree clan. Told alternately by Ava, the youngest of the three children, and her older brother, the fussy Kiwi, the novel Swamplandia! is a moving story of family, of deep love and crushing loss, of gators and ghosts.
As Janet Maslin suggested in her NYT review, some readers might be turned off by the offbeat family and their strange exploits but I found them charming, maddening, upsetting, and lost in their own worlds. Much like real families.
The novel isn't without a few faults. Without spoiling anything, I can't quite understand the need to put Ava through a terrible ordeal within an already painful ordeal. As for the ending, I suspected there might be problems but the author pulled it off well enough that I was satisfied.
Karen Russell is an immensely gifted writer and one deserving of a readers' time and full attention. She has the ability to make the mundane fascinating and the arcane seem like common, though worthwhile, knowledge. Because of her youth, there is also the promise of so much more to come.