Road Tripping with Swamplandia!

March 25, 2013 Art, Audio Books 21

Hello my Beautiful Bookworms!

Thank you ALL for the fabulous birthday wishes and making me want to eat ALL THE CAKE. You’ve still got a few days to enter the giveaway, so be sure to enter for $30 Amazon bucks- international entries welcome! Also, I’ve guest posted today on my friend Chrissy’s site. If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to check it out.

Last weekend, I took a trip to attend my “nephew’s” birthday party. When I take a long drive, I like to listen to books on tape. They keep me alert better than listening to music, plus, I mean, BOOKS. I took this trip with a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!


Are you aware that Florida boasts the most oddball theme parks per capita in the world? I may have made up that statistic, but I think I could be right. Swamplandia! is the account of a fictional family owned theme park on an island off the coast of Florida, known as (appropriately) Swamplandia. The Bigtree family is a “tribe” of alligator wrestlers. They renamed themselves “Bigtree” to sound more native, but their clan originated in Ohio. As PT Barnum would tell you, there’s a sucker born every minute. People believe what they want to believe, so if they prefer to think of alligator wrestlers as endowed with magical Native American gator charming talents, the Bigtrees are happy to oblige their delusions.

The family alligator wrestling matches are only one of the attractions. The main event is watching the family matriarch, Hilola Bigtree, dive into the gator pit and swim through unscathed. It’s a fantastic spectacle and crowd favorite. The gators are all referred to as “Seth,” I’m assuming, because “Sawtooth” was already taken. (No, they never really explained why they chose Seth. But yes, Grandpa was named Sawtooth.) Sadly, as we learn about Swamplandia’s glory days, we also learn of its demise.

Hilola Bigtree, headliner and matriarch, falls victim to cancer. Grandpa Sawtooth falls victim to Alzheimer’s. Chief Bigtree falls victim to his pride. Young Osceola falls victim to obsession. Kiwi falls victim to his limited home-school education. Ava, our 14 year old protagonist, falls victim to everyone else’s bad decisions.

Image courtesy of genius book blogger and generous soul Andi of Estella's Revenge.

Image courtesy of genius book blogger and generous soul Andi of Estella’s Revenge.

So. What did I think? I’ve got mixed feelings on this novel. On the one hand, I LOVED the language. The writing was gorgeous, and the actors reading the audio book were fantastic. That said, I think sometimes the story fell by the wayside so the language could shine. Some people wouldn’t be bothered by this, but as you know, I’m a story girl. I felt parts of the novel were more drawn out than necessary (particularly Louis Thanksgiving’s extremely detailed back story…) On the upside, I now have a fantastically vivid mental image of Florida’s swamplands. Overall, the prose reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, only set in North America. With alligators and stuff. Also a theme park based on Hell. Complete with saltwater drinking fountains. (Kudos for imagination!)

For reasons I will not disclose to you, as they might be considered “spoilers,” a red gator makes an appearance in this novel. I really wanted to know if such a thing existed in nature. As it turns out, they’re not really a thing. Which means, of course, that there aren’t a whole lot of readily available images (unless you happen to email a cool blogger like Andi and she lets you borrow her stuff.) I actually thought it might be a good idea to try and make my own art! I convinced Lauren of Filing Jointly…Finally to help me with the project and… well… This happened:

I drew a really horrible alligator.

I drew a really horrible alligator and embellished it with a voice bubble for extreme fierceness.

And then Lauren drew an alligator who thinks he's a stegosaurus.

And then Lauren drew an alligator who thinks he’s a stegosaurus. (Which, in spite of its dino-ness is infinitely better executed than my doodle…)

And now we know why Katie and Lauren don’t have promising futures in the lucrative world of alligator caricatures. Luckily, there’s not much of a market for that sort of thing in Illinois. It’s really the deer and skunk caricature niche that’s our bread and butter, so. You know. It’s cool.

Have any of you read Swamplandia!? What did you think? Did it spur you to do anything unusual, say, sketch a species-confused alligator? Tell me about it!

21 Responses to “Road Tripping with Swamplandia!”

  1. anothercleanslate

    I haven’t read Swamplandia but it sounds like a novel I would definitely read. I lived in Florida for several years and like reading books about where I know. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Leah

    I really liked Swamplandia!, but it also made me feel very upset — you can probably guess which plot point made me yell WTF WTF WTF DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN WHY IS THIS REEAAAAL? I felt very deceived, but I think that reaction demonstrates Russell’s crazy ability to draw you in and convince you that magical things are real.

  3. rhapsodyinbooks

    We had an interesting experience in my bookclub. The women and men reacted totally differently! The women were all sitting on the edge of their seats while reading, dreading the Bird Man possibilities, and it seems never to have occurred to the men! Or if it did, it was closer to: yeah, that stuff happens. The split-gender reaction was more interesting to me than the actual book! :–) (which still gives me nightmares over the whole Bird Man thing!) (thing being perhaps a double entendre)

    • Words for Worms

      I’m astonished that you have a co-ed book club LOL. That’s really kind of sad, but both my IRL book clubs are all female. Weird. Ugh. Bird Man. Ugh.

  4. Sarah Says Read

    Your alligator is adorable, lol. It looks like a puppy 🙂

    That said, I really have nothing interesting to say other than this sounds interesting! But probably not one I’m dying to try out, cause family-drama books tend to wear me out.

  5. bybeebooks

    I read Swamplandia! Terribly disappointed that there’s no such thing as red gators. My favorite parts described the rival theme park where Kiwi worked, World of Darkness. It reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s version of Hell in Damned.

  6. Ilene (BinkyBecky)

    Although I grew up and remain in the gatorless Yankee North, my mother and her 9 siblings grew up and remain in gator infested Florida. Visiting there is an adventure. Especially when going for a swim in my Aunt’s pool warrants a very serious, “Watch for gators darlin’!” Must send a copy to my Mom – I can see her reading it aloud, poolside, to all her sweet-tea slinging siblings. Wonder if the gators would sidle up for a listen?

      • Ilene (BinkyBecky)

        Fortunately they never actually got close to the pool. You could see them sometimes, lazing by the pond, near the pool. My Southern relatives just get a kick out of scaring their Yankee kin. 😉

  7. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

    I am from Florida, missy! Watch your tongue! 😉

    I really enjoyed Swamplandia!, especially because I grew up in South Florida by the Everglades and took trips to parks that were kind of like that, and went on airboat rides and saw lots of alligators!

    But just FYI, real Floridians almost never see alligators in the real world!

      • RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

        Not a lot, and only in South Florida, south of where I grew up (I grew up in the West Palm area) but there are a lot of places in south and central FL where you can go air boat riding, which is really fun! There’s a place called Gatorland where I’ve been but I don’t remember much about it except that I held part of a huuuuuuuuge snake.

Talk to me, Bookworms!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.