The Bigtree clan is a family in crisis. The mother, Hiola, has passed away and she was not only the main gator wrestler and star attraction at the Swamplandia theme park, but the glue that held the family together. Now on the verge of losing their beloved home, the Bigtrees find they are ill-prepared to deal with the real world into which they've been thrust. Each member of the family leaves their sheltered enclave convinced they can somehow turn things around. Yet do they leave Swamplandia more to save it or to escape it?
The narration duties here are divided in some very interesting ways. Actress/writer Arielle Sitrick plays the main character of young Ava in the chapters focusing mainly on Swamplandia. David Ackroyd takes on the role of Kiwi, the older teenage son, with his chapters being told mainly from a rival theme park, a place that's a bizarro alternative universe version of his previous home. The two narrators see things quite differently. Sitrick voices Ava as the winsome innocent and the mystic heart of a Swamplandia where anything is possible; however, did the nostalgic world she remembers ever really exist? Ackroyd plays Kiwi as the somewhat naive yet most practical member of the family. He has big plans and learns quickly, but finds things are not quite so easy out in the real world.
Karen Russell's Swamplandia is an amusing and well crafted piece that's a bit Florida gothic and a bit magical realism. Will Ava's rare red gator save the day? Maybe Kiwi with his big plans and Forrest Gump-like luck will come through after all? Will younger sister Osceola ever marry her long-dead ghost boyfriend? Then again, perhaps the various family pipe dreams are destined to fail, as perhaps is Swamplandia? In the end the characters and the listener have to question just what a happy ending for this quirky family would even look like. That's the journey that Russell takes you on with Swamplandia, and it's a colorful, original trip well worth taking. Cleo Creech
From the celebrated 29-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s.... Run for your life. This girl is on fire," said the Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.
The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly number-one in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage 98 gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.
Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
©2011 Karen Russell (P)2011 Random House
“[Russell] has thrown the whole circus of her heart onto the page, safety nets be damned. . . . Russell has deep and true talent.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride. . . . This family, wrestling with their desires and demons . . . will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!” (The New York Times Book Review)
“The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement.”(Entertainment Weekly)
I have listened to many audiobooks since 1987. I have never listened to such dreadful narration. I would love to give it zero stars. Or negative 500 stars. Giving it a single star is grade inflation.
Did the narrators come from the theatrical equivalent of Swamplandia? Or were they relatives of the recording company execs? In this day when there is a surplus of actors with theatrically trained voices, why do we get narrators who (1) speak in a monotone; (2) are unable to give each character his or her own voice so that sometimes the listener doesn't know who is who; (3) in the case of the female narrator, are totally unable to pace the narration, rushing through everything and slurring words (the male narrator paces the narration better but still suffers from the defects in (1) and (2)).
The only thing keeping me going right now is that the story is good so far, and I care about the characters. I am about 1-1/2 hours in, and if the story stops being good I'm going to deep-six this book.
I love literary fiction and I occasionally delve into non-fiction. I love books that are suspenseful and am really into well-told stories.
I found this book to be quite well-written, but the decision to use 2 narrators was a distractingly bad experience... The book is solid when Ava is narrating, but when Kiwi is narrating, it, the book sounds like it isn't even being directed by the same person. If they just would have stuck with Arielle Sitrick, it would have been a MUCH better listen.
If you want diverse, quirky characters and want exquisite descriptions of the Florida wetlands... this could be your book!
The narration by Arielle Sitrick really took away from this book. It was very poor quality -- flat with a lot of swallowed words and very little emotion. Compared in-book with the narration of David Ackroyd she pales even more in comparison. Mr. Ackroyd's section were vastly superior. I have to say I was very disappointed and surprised by this lack of talent.
When I finished listening to the book and thought about it I did realize that the story actually has something to it worth reading and worth thinking about. In this case I wish I had just read it. I've never felt that way about an audiobook before.
Listen on dog walks, commutes and around the house. Welcome virtually any genre but southern fiction holds a special place in my heart.
I just didn't like it. My boyfriend and I read it together and we both felt a real sense of disappointment. Did we just not "get" the hype? Were we missing something? I felt disjointed most of the time like it was really two novels spliced together - one trying to work its way under the magical realism genre and the other a sort of coming of age humorous one. The result for me was muddled, and maybe I just don't like magical realism or maybe Russell was working just a little too hard at making this a quirky novel. It hit me hardest when I realized what was happening to Ava....and didn't care. Yup, I just didn't care what really happened to any of these characters and, in the end, that's not the way to endear the reader. Oh well.
The story is highly unusual and very imaginative. I wanted to hear the rest of it. But I was completely unable to continue listening to it because the reading voice of the young woman relating it was so absolutely abominable. She speaks too fast by far, and her sibilants are half way to a lisp. Overall, I missed understanding of at least 1 word out of 10; it became highly frustrating and I just had to stop at less than half way.
I just couldn't get into this book. It seemed imaginative and is very well written. After many hours, I just didn't care how it ended.
This book was an incredible waste of my time. It was horribly slow moving and depressing. It was basically a story of a family's hardships that just continued to get worse. The absolute worst part for me was the description of a 13 year old girl being violated by some old creep. I do not find any type of enjoyment from stories like this. Do yourself a favor and do not read or listen to this story.
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