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Swamplandia! | [Karen Russell]

Swamplandia!

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

“[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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.2 (381 )
5 star
 (68)
4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Overall
3.3 (257 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Story
3.2 (256 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Kelli Birmingham, AL, United States 03-01-12
    Kelli Birmingham, AL, United States 03-01-12 Member Since 2002

    Listen on dog walks, commutes and around the house. Welcome virtually any genre but southern fiction holds a special place in my heart.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    ratings
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    "Just Don't Get The Hype"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrea YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY, United States 08-08-11
    Andrea YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY, United States 08-08-11 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
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    3
    3
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    "Don't go to Swamplandia"

    This could have been fun but got bogged down in the swamp. Wish'd the gators had eaten a few of the characters it would've been shorter...

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peter Delacorte Western Hemisphere 07-07-11
    Peter Delacorte Western Hemisphere 07-07-11 Listener Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    1
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    "Do not allow Arielle Sitrick to narrate your book!"

    There could be no better example of how the wrong narrator can ruin a book than this. While I imagine I would have had problems with Swamplandia in any case, Ms. Sitrick reads in a flat monotone, which is hardly what the book requires. She mispronounces words, she puts emphasis on the wrong syllables, she's generally a disaster, and it's extremely difficult to listen to her. Not so her co-narrator, David Ackroyd, who unfortunately reads only a small portion of the book. This was, alas, an infuriating experience.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    faridoon 05-15-14
    faridoon 05-15-14 Member Since 2008
    ratings
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    6
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    "Replace Arielle as narrator please!"
    What did you love best about Swamplandia!?

    It's phenomenal!


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    It's like listening to a fourth grader read. The terrible intonations are cringe worthy. And I refuse to believe it's done to replicate the way Ava would speak. It's not. She just shouldn't have narrated this. She ruins the book.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara 04-01-14
    Barbara 04-01-14 Member Since 2013
    ratings
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    8
    2
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    "Worst performance Ever"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    I could not get past this narrator's voice. She sounds like a high schooler and not in a good way. Her diction is terrible. Her voice is so nasal it gave me a headache. I am so disappointed they would ever choose someone so inept to narrate.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jill Eustis, FL, United States 11-24-13
    Jill Eustis, FL, United States 11-24-13 Member Since 2007
    ratings
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    109
    2
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    Story
    "Reader was distracting"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would be hesitant to recommend this mostly because of the performance.


    If you’ve listened to books by Karen Russell before, how does this one compare?

    This was my first book performed by Karen Russell.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    I was repeatedly off put by the reader's mispronunciation of words. This kept me from being able to fully involve myself in the story. Shouldn't someone have noticed this during production?!


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    I don't think so.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda Shoreline, WA, United States 10-25-13
    Melinda Shoreline, WA, United States 10-25-13 Member Since 2009

    I love literary fiction and I occasionally delve into non-fiction. I love books that are suspenseful and am really into well-told stories.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Head on into the swamp"

    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!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Virginia Santa Cruz, CA, United States 09-17-13
    Virginia Santa Cruz, CA, United States 09-17-13
    ratings
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    1
    1
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    Performance
    Story
    "Someone picked the wrong person to read!"
    Would you be willing to try another one of Arielle Sitrick and David Ackroyd ’s performances?

    No, I thought the female reader was awful. Every few minutes, I would have to ask, "what did she just say?" Her pronunciation and enunciation were very poor. Not what you look for in an audible book.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer New Milford, CT, United States 05-11-13
    Jennifer New Milford, CT, United States 05-11-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Unique"
    What did you like best about this story?

    This story was entirely unique. I can't say I've ever read anything quite like it.


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    The female narrator was OK, perhaps a little lacking in emotion but she portrayed the character well. The male narrator, while clearly a good reader, just did not sound like a 17 year old boy. I would gladly listen to another book by that reader, but I don't think he was the right choice for this role.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sue St. Louis 03-29-13
    Sue St. Louis 03-29-13 Member Since 2009

    Sue

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Weird to boring to unlistenable!"

    Tried, but could not get into this bizarre and eventually too disturbing story. I did finish it with gritted teeth, to see how it ended, but the ending was nothing great either. This book was not for me and I usually like stories about quirky characters, strange settings, and even "disturbing" or mature topics. Not recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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