First off, look at this stunning cover by artist Hiu Lim that I found through the magic of the interwebs.
Swamplandia!. Steeper Tara selected this title and we found that the book was one of those novels where you’re not quite sure how reliable the narrator is and if the supernatural is natural in the universe described.
Ava Bigtree and her family are alligator wrestlers who run a theme park called Swamplandia! which, basically, offers an assortment of strange attractions. In the first few pages, Ava’s mother, who has been the grand attraction to the park, dies. What follows is the strange tale of how the Bigtree tribe responds to Hiola Bigtree’s death. Can the family save Swamplandia! and should they want to?
What an interesting book for our group. Those of us who didn’t finish the book, got caught up right around the same parts and even many of us who finished it had a rough go of it about 100 pages in. However, this was one of the first books that we had strong opposite feelings about. Many of our readers loved how Russell’s novel made you forget what you know as an adult, bringing you back to the times of your childhood where you’re just not sure. Ava Bigtree meets a man called the Birdman and decides to invite him to stay in the home where she is sleeping … alone. Of course, we adults are crying out in horror, “No, Ava, No! You are a 12 year-old-girl! Don’t you know about ‘stranger danger’?” Which, of course, she doesn’t. Ava Bigtree has been raised on an island where mostly everyone she encounters are strangers visiting her family’s theme park.
Those of us who ended up feeling unsure about the book, leaning toward the “not a fan” category, found that some of Russell’s prose was a bit “swampy.” I, myself, found chunks of the book difficult to navigate, but peppered with some of the most beautiful language I’ve read in a great while. At one point Russell’s character Kiwi (big brother in the Bigtree clan) is thinking of his mother, her death, and its effect on his family and their livelihood. Kiwi realization is something along the lines of “Amazing how a 90 pound woman can sink an island.” Many of us thought it was some of the most striking imagery we’ve read, but it caused frustration that we had to wade through what one of our steepers described as “some tough-sledding.” One thing we could all agree on, however, was that, not unlike last month’s title Doctor Zhivago, there was quite a bit of HORRORS! HORRORS!
We were very lucky to have a new voice at our meeting, Justin, who brought up some lovely deep analysis of the novel. Overall, Swamplandia! is a richly woven coming-of-age story for the Bigtree children. All three of them, in some way lose the innocence of their youth. For instance, Kiwi Bigtree goes to work at World of Darkness, a hell themed park, in the hopes to help alleviate the staggering debts at Swamplandia! Tara described it best, “Interesting how Kiwi ends up growing up in a hell-themed park, when growing up is hell.”
So, that’s all for now … I apologize that this post is so late and I hope that some of our steepers will comment and bring up things that I forgot to mention. Until next time …